Some places might not be very exotic, scenic or on people’s list of must see-must visit but often they offer something that many places do not: nostalgia and comfort arising out of familiarity. The neighbourhood park where one spent many of the childhood evenings playing with friends is one such place. If we take this analogy to stories, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hours Bookstore is one such story. This is a story of 24 hour bookstore which employs a recession-hit, out-of-the-job website designer Clay Jannon.
A simple story which takes you through some of the familiar world of books and technology. There is an undercurrent debate on traditional books/bookstore vs the modern technology; and a fistful of elements taken from mystery and suspense thrillers thrown in there. The story forces one to move from one page to another, but for me reading the book was akin to visiting the neighbourhood park of my young days. There were a lot of things to make me feel nostalgic or relate to the story. Clay was a web-designer, loves technology (is a MacBook/iPhone/Kindle guy) and loves book…
Mr. Penumbra’s quaint bookstore is not a normal bookstore, it has mainly arcane and cryptic books for a devoted clientele. Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore has a higher purpose and Clay Jannon, the bookstore clerk, is not supposed to know that. But the curiosity gets better of him. With the help of his friend ( a lady who works at Google ) and Google’s tech-tools, Jannon tries to figure out the true story behind this unusual bookstore full of books containing gibberish.
Robin Sloan provides interesting glimpses of a modern metropolitan life, and pervasiveness and potential of technology. However, the story takes a formulaic path in the end and is only salvaged by the characterisation and the narrative.
Some stories gradually grow on you and some characters seem that they have been made from ingredients picked from your own life. And when this happens in a book, which is written lyrically and full of erudition, for readers like me, it is a something mesmerizing.
A few weeks back I finished Pascal Mercier’s “Night Train to Lisbon”, a book originally written in German and later translated in several languages. The theme of book is delightful mix of philosophy and suspense. This concoction is very much expected as Pascal Mercier is pseudonym of philosophy professor Peter Bieri. The philosophy does not seem to take precedence, often case with most of the philosopher cum writers, it unfurls itself subtly with the story.
When I saw the blurb of the book, I was immediately tempted to grab a copy and I did just that. A middle aged teacher of Classics walks out of a class to explore life of an enigmatic Portugese doctor, a few pages from a book written by the doctor pushed him on an uncertain journey. The teacher, Gregorius middle aged, relatively well ensconced in his life, walking out on sheer impulse and on pull of an enigma, is in itself awe inspiring considering the way we cling to nugatory inane stuffs.
Though the book intrigues you when Gregorius walks out but soon relegates Gregorius to a secondary role, he just becomes a prop in emergence of a larger than life character of Portugese doctor Prado. Prado is our typical larger than life hero who resides in almost everyone , struggling to come out but succumbs to cruelties of rational mind and selfish emotions. A hero, whose personality is carved with a mute conflict between a father and a son, a conflict which stemmed from deep love and unexpressed expectations, Prado is gifted in many ways.
The life of Prado is portrayed in the book in many stories told by Prado’s friends and his sister to Gregorius. Marcier’s virtuoso story telling makes each of phase of Prado’s life and his struggle come alive in front of your eyes with exquisite stories told by different characters in the book. Gregorius goes on to discover Prado and his extraordinary life, punctuated by many events depicting superlative emotions, and this discovery for him becomes a self-discovery.
This is surely one of the better books I have read in recent times, would recommend to anyone who savors intelligent well written fiction.