Fiction sloan

Published on July 29th, 2013


Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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Blurb: Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone – and serendipity, coupled with sheer curiosity, has landed him a new job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead they simply borrow impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behaviour and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore… (Publisher)

Roxane Gay, The New York Times

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is eminently enjoyable, full of warmth and intelligence. Sloan balances a strong plot with philosophical questions about technology and books and the power both contain. The prose maintains an engaging pace as Clay, Mr. Penumbra and the quirky constellation of people around them try to determine what matters more — the solution to a problem or how that solution is achieved … at times the ease with which the plot unfolds strains credulity.”

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Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Mr. Penumbra’s store doesn’t make its infrequent visitors want to buy books about a teenage wizard. “This is the kind of store that makes you want to be a teenage wizard,” Clay observes, and he happens to be just the type for that … Believe it or not, Mr. Sloan is intent on connecting these Tolkienesque types to the bookstore’s real-world existence. That’s a big burden to place on such a mild-mannered, easygoing novel. It winds up turning the latter part of the book into a hyper-charged adventure tale involving a secret Fellowship, an underground lair, black-robed cult members, assorted codexes written in indecipherable language: the works. Fortunately Mr. Sloan brings these challenges to the kinds of self-assured Google stars who find them irresistible, and he arranges a cage match between scholars and Googlers as they try to crack secret texts.”

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George Pendle, The Financial Times

“Sloan’s book becomes an amusing riff on bibliophilic mysteries such as Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Jorge Luis Borges’ The Library of Babel, although it lacks their complexity. Despite the bells and whistles, this is a traditional mystery dotted with the trappings of technology.”

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Ben Machell, The Times

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore positions itself as a genteel and softly funny work — no crime — but the characters aren’t up to a comedy of manners: you lose track of the number of times Mr Penumbra’s eyes are said to twinkle, while everyone seems to interact with each other between endless raised eyebrows and wagged fingers. At points you wonder if Sloan would have just preferred to use emoticons.”

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