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.
— Goodreads Description
The book wasn’t entirely my cup of tea. I didn’t dislike it and I did finish it after all, but that was mostly because I was hoping there really would be some kind of big bang at the end. The writing wasn’t particularly inspiring for me and a lot of times I feel the author should’ve remembered the good old rule of “Show, Don’t Tell”.
It took me a bit to get used to the narrative style (spoilers ahead):
I wonder what Raj has in his lunch. “Vitamin D, omega-3s, fermented tea leaves,” he says, still scribbling.
I wonder if Kat Potente has been summoned. She shakes her head. “Not yet,” she says.
Now I’m wondering what it would be like if we ran the whole country like this. “That’s totally what Raj wants to do!” Kat laughs.
And more variations of the same. It makes reading more difficult because whenever I arrived at the speech parts that answered the narrator, I had to go back and reread the sentence before to grasp the whole conversation.
I also don’t think it’s a suitable book for people with little to no computer and/or typography knowledge. Maybe they can skip over the parts that they don’t understand, but there was a lot of talk about Google and a lot of talk about fonts and serifs and sans serifs and I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone who doesn’t understand the differences. Or maybe I would because I felt like those parts were really over the top and didn’t really help making the book a singular work. Half the time it felt like a lot of scenes weren’t written with the entire story in mind and they feel like pieces to a puzzle where the connecting edges have been cut off; it makes a pretty image as a whole but you can see the little cuts and holes.
That said, I did enjoy a lot of the characters. Penumbra is delightful and just wonderful to read about and Edgar, Neel, Mat and the mysterious novices are ridiculously interesting as well. Those characters really made the book worth my time.