Saturday, 18 April 2009

PopCo by Scarlett Thomas

It is possible that I am now Scarlett Thomas’ biggest fan. After The End of Mr. Y – which really did open my mind and change my perspective about loads of things – I fell in love with her. Now, having read PopCo (which is Mr. Y’s predecessor – though they are completely unrelated novels), my feelings have strengthened to what some might call ‘unhealthy obsession’.

Alice Butler works for PopCo – a global toy corporation with ‘no rules’ (in the “creative corporate” sort of way). PopCo is Fun, Cutting Edge, Youthful. She designs games for kids who like code-cracking, spy toys or survival kits – she’s always been a bit of a loner and relates to that hidden world of codes and secrets. Alice inherited a love of puzzles from her grandfather and a fondness for mathematics from her grandmother; which makes her a productive and commendable employee. But when she is called away from the London office on a special ‘thought camp’ in the countryside, Alice begins to see the darker side of corporate policy. Add to this the inherited treasure map from her grandfather, and you have a story dripping with mystery, philosophy, emotion – and pirates.

The novel is full of ideas – mathematical, scientific, code-cracking, sinister marketing strategy, and so many more. Yes, it can be a little zeitgeist-y, but Thomas is careful not to be too pushy with her ‘message’. She is always informative and never condescending. I love her writing because, although she has something to say, she lets you make up your own mind. For me, PopCo was a feast of ideas; the plot and characterization was not as developed as it was in Mr. Y, but it didn’t matter to me because it was so packed full of thought-nourishment that I hardly noticed. I actually read a passage from the book at a dinner table recently – I think that has to say something towards how highly I thought of it.

In short, if you liked The End of Mr. Y, you will like this. If you enjoy ‘idea-novels’, or Douglas Coupland, you will probably enjoy this. PopCo is cult-y and rebellious, zesty and robust. It is an absolute delight to absorb – and I will certainly never think about mathematics in the same way again.

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