Book Review: ‘Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore’ by Robin Sloan

In only 288 pages, Robin Sloan manages to capture the essence of quintessential bookishness.

Clay Jannon begins to work the quiet nightshift at Mr penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore, which worryingly, has few books to sell.  The rest of the books are stacked three stories high in toppling bookshelves available to borrow by the strange patrons that visit.

I adored this book as it combines the old timey view of bookshops and libraries with a Lemony Snicket worthy secret organisation.  The characters reflect this style of writing with tweed and scarves and sweaters; outfits worthy of academics and librarians alike. One of the things that I was impressed with the book is how it managed to entwine two very different worlds – old knowledge which lies quiet on dusty bookshelves, with coding and scanning and software to solve one of the greatest mysteries known.

Although the ending was not what I expected, with no adventure to defeat dark powers which oppose the secret organisation, it had, in some way, a more realistic ending; trying away the characters to positive futures where we don’t need to worry about their fate.  Allowing us only to ponder on the revealing of the mystery.

Immortality is mentioned in many fiction books, and for good reason.  We want to be remembered, like the Kings and Queens of history.  We want a distant ancestor to leaf through the marriage records of a draughty stone church and hassle the historians of archives and exclaim that what an extraordinary life we led.  Books give us an immortality at no Elixir of Life can give us.

“The nature of immortality is a mystery,” he says, speaking so softly that we have to lean closer to hear. “But everything I know of writing and reading tells me that this is true.  I have felt it in these shelves and in others.”

I don’t believe the immortality part, but I do know the feeling that penumbra is talking about.  Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines-it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.

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