Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 Aug 2013)
“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.”
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This book was such a pleasant surprise. Books set in bookstores are by far, my favourite kind; they’re my kryptonite. What the book was about, didn’t even matter as much to me, but it was an added, unexpected bonus.
The book revolves around Clay, his search for work, and how he lands himself at Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. Willing to work just about anything to keep his head afloat at the deep end of the recession, Clay doesn’t ask questions about the curious on-goings of the store. The specific requirements of the job for Clay are three fold.
ONE: You must always be here from ten p.m. to six a.m. exactly. You must not be late.
TWO: You may not browse, read, or otherwise inspect the shelved volumes. Retrieve them for members. That is all.
THREE: You must keep precise records of all transactions. The time. The customer's appearance. His state of mind. How he asks for the book. How he receives it. Does he appear to be injured. Is he wearing a sprig of rosemary on his hat. And so on.
And what customers they were. They would come in during the graveyard shift, or random hours of the morning, and take an old book from the shelf. How did they pay? With another book in return, they exchanged them. Few nights in, naturally, Clay was curious as to what was going on. He endeavours to break some rules, to get to the bottom of this weird bookshop.
What Clay embarks on next, with the help of some eccentric and loveable characters, is what makes this novel fabulous. Sloan introduces a wonderful array of characters, each and every one of whom I loved. Clay’s best friend Neel, rich, nerdy and loyal friend; Clay’s girlfriend Kat – who works at Google (yes, you heard right), Clay’s roommate Mat – the pro with recreation of the artistic kind and then finally, Mr Penumbra himself.
Let me just tell you this. You. Cannot. Guess. What. This. Story. Is. About. I kept pausing in between each new twist, closed my Kindle cover, took a deep breath, at which point my sister would look over at me on the floor, and ask what’s wrong? And every single time, I would reply – “this book is crazy”. And crazy of the good kind and I loved every single bit of the journey.
Sloan’s writing style had subtle hints of John Green, Markus Zusak and Carlos Ruis Zafon – my 3 favourite authors. There was poetry involved, as well as humour that I didn’t expect – which results in me barking out laughs randomly that definitely startled my family. It’s a style that captures your interest and refuses to let go of you till you turn the final page.
This was such a unique story, and undeniable one I hadn’t read before. It may have seemed a little ludicrous at times, I will admit, there were parts to the story that I was not fond of, but a book is what you make of it. And I decided as much as I loved this book, it’s not something that should be taken too seriously. Instead, what does matter, is the courage, the curiosity, and the binding of the characters as they come together in this story.
This is a brilliant novel from Sloan, and I can’t wait to read more of his works. As always, let me leave you with some quotes from the novel and I implore you to go pick this book up.
“There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care. All the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight.”
“You know, I'm really starting to think the whole world is just a patchwork quilt of crazy little cults, all with their own secret spaces, their own records, their own rules.”
“He has the strangest expression on his face- the emotional equivalent of 404 PAGE NOT FOUND.”