The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.
If I were ever to write a book, this is the kind of book I would want my name attached to. Starting with the cover, which must be looked at in the dark if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a hardback copy, right through to the conclusion it pushed all the right buttons with me. Having said this however, the end was a bit of a disappointment for me, and this is the reason the book only received a 4 thumbs rating; I felt it just left me hanging there. There was no dramatic ending and far too many loose ends which I am hoping means there may be another book set in this bookstore.
The story is told from the viewpoint of, I suppose you could call him this, the main character, but there are so many characters in this book each as equally as engaging as this man who I really hesitate to cast him in the role of the protagonist. Each of the characters provides the reader with enough back story to make them come to life on the page. They are all quirky, a little eccentric in some cases or downright arrogant but they all play a crucial part in the story line; as does the store of the title and the books themselves.
This book is a combination of mystery, adventure, philosophy and unrequited love, whilst containing lots of points and issues that would make discussion points for either a book club or dinner table conversation. We see how old and modern technology can come together and, at times cross the boundaries into each realm without the world blowing up; are given an indication at just where we might be heading in the way of technology, and why we need to preserve in their original form the old knowledge that is still around. Secret societies are always a good read, but I thought the Author did a great job at hinting that maybe the ‘great Google, which is also featured in the book, may be a modern-day secret society. To find out what I mean by this, you will just have to read the book.
I powered through this book in a few hours and would highly recommend it to someone who is looking for an adult adventure novel, with more than a liberal dash of mystery and humour thrown in.
Edited on Tuesday, 12th August: Esther Bochner of Macmillan contacted me and asked if I would like to include an excerpt of the audio book. So, for all you audio book lovers here it is: