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SteveMcNally

Scribbler UK

Once upon a time I was an avid reader. Life got in the way for a while and I put the books down. A recent change in circumstance means I have more spare time once and I have been bitten by the bug again.

Currently reading

Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz
Thomas Harding
The Book Thief
Markus Zusak

Short and sweet

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

Finished this a couple of days ago and almost launched straight into a post, but decided it might be wise to put a little distance between myself and the book on this occasion, and I'm glad that I did.

If I'd written this immediately I'd probably have been more effusive in my praise - not that I feel particularly ill towards it now - but the more I think about it the more an element of disappointment creeps in.

 

I believe this has roots in a short story that was subsequently expanded - barely - to novel length, and it shows a little too much. I love the concept, and the characters and there is a real 'favourite book ever' potential in there, but it feels rushed. I'm sorry, but it does. The story needed more time to breathe, just as the ideas contained within needed more time to grow.

 

It's never a good sign for me when you can't recall a characters name, and I just had to rack my brains to recall the name of the main character - Clay, for the record - for the purpose of surmising the story.

 

Which is borderline great to be fair - a kind of whimsical, intellectual mini-Dan Brown, with a revelation hundreds of years old potentially concealed within the pages of the deeply encoded, hidden within plain sight semi-secret library of Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, and sought by the mysterious and furtive Unbroken Spine society - a group of intensely serious bookworms who devote their lives to decoding and following the trail.

Exciting stuff in a most unexpectedly exciting place. Equally thrilling was the inclusion of a typeface in the mystery - as a huge typography fan myself who likes nothing more than a good, solid font it was a rare treat to see something everyone - and I mean everyone - takes for granted, elevated to a position somewhat deserving of its long and faithful service to humanity. And yes, I realise that sounds dull, and makes me sound dull, but it's not and I'm not. Honestly.


My main problems with were firstly that there is a little too much 'coincidence' in the events for my taste, with characters introduced just in time to be perfectly useful for the task in hand. Without sounding sappy I would have liked a more in-depth description of the relationship between Clay and Kat as I'm sure there are great characters in there waiting to be fleshed out for our enjoyment.

 

Secondly, and this is a problem I consistently have with books, the ending is unsatisfying. But that is a common issue with grand themes and big ideas unfortunately - when we ask the important questions we don't always have the answers that would appease our need for comforting and decisive resolution.

 

Thirdly is Mr. Penumbra - there is so much more that I want to know about this intriguing little guy that just doesn't even get touched open. If Robin Sloan writes a sequel (or more likely a spin-off) focussed on this titular but peripheral character I will be all over it. He deserves to be so much more than the 'Mr Benn shopkeeper' figure that he ends up being.

I feel like I'm being a little harsh here as I loved every minute of the all too short time I spent in this curious little world. In my mind the characters all came to life in the best way - with occasionally too many gaps filled in by my own imagination it's true - and the Unbroken Spine characters evoke a feeling of Studio Ghibli they so richly deserve to become one day.

 

This would make a great animated movie that would enthrall all ages. As a book, perhaps not so much sadly.

Undoubtedly worth reading though as it certainly doesn't outstay its welcome.