Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love this book. It's a refreshing, pleasant, imaginative and optimistic book about friendship and the lure of the mysterious, and among other things, it's about a bookstore! It's a definite must-read for all bibliophiles.
Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore begins with Clay Jannon, an out-of-work web designer who has found employment at a 24-hour bookstore located in San Francisco. Although the store has very few customers, he meets a variety of strange people that frequent the shop, but who rarely buy anything. However, they borrow mysteriously coded volumes, known as the "Waybacklist," most of which are hand-made, from a secret corner of the store. His curiosity sets him on a strange journey to try to find out more about the "Waybacklist," of ancient, esoteric books.
When they make an exchange from the "Waybacklist," Clay must record transaction details into an old logbook, including personal information about each customer, such as their appearance and state of mind. When the shop is empty, Clay busies himself by creating a computerised model of the bookstore in 3D. By identifying each of his customers by a different colour in the model, he is able to see a pattern developing and becomes convinced that the customers and Penumbra himself are members of a secret cult.
With two computer geek friends, one an old school friend, Neel, and the other a potential customer he met in the bookstore, Kat, who becomes his girlfriend, Clay sets out on a quest to learn the carefully kept secrets of the bookstore. When they bring their findings to Mr Penumbra, they discover the bookstore's secrets extend further than they ever imagined.
Clay, the main character, is exactly the kind of lead you want in this type of novel. He is constantly clueless though he tries hard, he is absolutely hilarious and very genuine. There are many different secondary characters regularly being introduced, but the book is so cleverly written that they never seem unnecessary. There is a lot of different levels of interaction between them, that I really liked.
There is an amazing use of different technologies in this book, however despite all the Google, Amazon, Kindle and the computer references, the true emphasis of the novel is on the people, and that is why I found the book so charming and bewitching. The younger characters are keen and enthusiastic, and you can identify with their search for connection and knowledge. The mix of foisty old books and cutting-edge technology is captivating.
If you prefer villains in your novels then this book is not for you. There is no evil in this book, and everyone that the narrator meets becomes a friend. I couldn't really guess how this book would end but I loved the way the story was concluded. The following quote is actually the last paragraph in the book, but it describes the mystery and the wonder of the whole book, to perfection.
"A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time."
Enthralling and fun to read, this novel, with its unique twists and turns of plot, left me feeling very satisfied.
Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore has inspired me to read other novels by Robin Sloan.
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