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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Robin Sloan

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (2 Reviews)
Book Details

Publisher : Atlantic Books

Published : 2013

Copyright : Robin Sloan 2012

ISBN-10 : PB 1-78239-119-3
ISBN-13 : PB 978-1-78239-119-7

Publisher's Write-Up

A New York Times bestseller, Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore is an entirely charming and lovable first novel of mysterious books and dusty bookshops; it is a witty and delightful love-letter to both the old book world and the new.

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...

Shortlisted for the LA Times Book Award for First Fiction.

'The pages swell with Mr Sloan's nerdy affection and youthful enthusiasm for both tangible books and new media... [but] the ties that bind the story are friendship and vitality for life. This is a clever and whimsical tale with a big heart.'

The Economist
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Reader Reviews

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Review by Chrissi (300413) Rating (8/10)
Review by Nigel (300413) Rating (9/10)

Review by Chrissi
Rating 8/10
Mr Penumbra does not recruit staff for his bookshop by advertising online or in a newspaper; he places a card in his window. His interview technique is also eccentric, asking a single question of prospective employees. This is successful as it leads Clay, an out of work web designer, to a job working the night shift, recording his impressions of customers and their moods, as well as what books they borrow. Not buy, but borrow. The customers come in and ask for specific titles, to be taken from the upper reaches of the shelving of the store.

Clay spends his night shifts wondering what is going on, eventually starting to put the information on who had what into a three dimensional space representing the store. Here it all gets a bit strange as this really kick starts events leading to the discovery of a clandestine society who believe that the secret to immortality is hidden in the strange books, buried in code in books dating from the advent of the printing press.

This is an incredible book, drawing on references to historical and modern culture. I particularly liked the comment about how if you are impressed by what a computer does (in the book), you must be over thirty. Parallels are drawn between the world of opportunity first offered by the printed word and now the internet. Mr Sloane has gifted us with a lovely imaginative book, part detective story and part a thought provoking essay on knowledge and books. He looks at what books mean to people, from the somewhat random choices that we make as we skip through our reading history, to the emotional attachments that we make to certain genres, authors or characters.

The resulting novel is uplifting, as esoteric as Penumbra himself, and will pull you in like an old bookshop, where the deadened quiet of lots of bookshelves offers a world of opportunity and may well take a whole afternoon without you realising. Time well spent if you ask me.
Chrissi (30th April 2013)

Review by Nigel
Rating 9/10
I feel a bit like Clay Jannon, the main protagonist in Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, as this book was not intended for me; however, I’m glad I had the nerve to sneak it off the shelf and have a peek because it is really, really good.

Clay Jannon is a victim of the economic decline. Having lost his job he gradually comes to terms with the fact his past experience is not what it could be and his high hopes are somewhat unrealistic. As the job offers are not exactly pouring in he accepts a position as the night clerk at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. As the story unfolds it becomes clear all is not as it seems (obviously, or it would be a pretty dull book) as we are introduced to some strange characters and even stranger goings on... enough said.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is an immensely enjoyable story that is extremely well written; as the tale unfolds it effortlessly transfers from the page to the minds eye, all in glorious 3D Dolby Digital™, as all the best stories should. If you love books you will love this story, if you don’t you’ll still love it.
Nigel (30th April 2013)

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