Review by Sarah
October 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Amazon + Good Reads
"The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, 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 “checking out” 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’ behavior 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.
With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day."
THIS BOOK GLOWS IN THE DARK!!!! However, besides that exciting tidbit, I was rather underwhelmed by it. I heard from so many people that this book was wonderful, and perfect, and everything I needed in a book. Nothing really grabbed me, though.
The first problem I had with this book was the characters. While interesting and unique, I felt they were under-developed. Our protagonist, Clay, was somewhat dull. I never got a clear picture of him in my head and, despite his narration, never really got into his head either. His love interest, Kat, was a bit too quirky for me. I like quirks in characters, like John Green’s Pudge, who knows many famous last words, but Kat’s quirks weren’t endearing. She owned about 10 of the same shirt and that was all she wore. For someone with a job at Google, like her, I found that unbelievable.
The story was also a bit unbelievable. With the setting of a bookstore, I felt Sloan could have gone in so many creative directions. I expected monsters to emerge from the pages of a book or time travel to be utilized. Instead, the characters had to figure out a mystery of a cult-like group. And once they have it figured out, the book kind of just ends. It felt like something was missing.I did enjoy some elements of the book. Mr. Penumbra’s store was beautifully described. It is a place I would definitely mosey into if I passed by in the city. The writing was great. It was easy to read and had many thoughtful sentences, which I highlighted in my book.
Overall, I guess I didn’t like this book as much as I expected to. Plot holes and underdevelopment of characters aside, I would recommend this book to anyone who loves books about books.