Scarlett Thomas´ novel The End of Mr Y has been on my tbr list for a while, but when I had the urge to read it, it was checked out from the library. So, instead, I decided to try her other novel PopCo, see whether I liked her style and mostly, because of the summary:
Alice Butler has been receiving some odd messages – all anonymous, all written in simple code, and all evidence that the sender has been watching her closely. Are they from someone at POPCO- the profit-hungry toy corporation she works for Or are they perhaps from Alice’s long-disappeared father The solution, she is sure, has something to do with the key she’s been wearing round her neck since she was ten.
I love adventure stories and code-breaking, who doesn´t? PopCo however turned out to be so much more than that. It´s a treasure hunt, a family history, it is anti-corporate, a history and math lesson, and teaches about consumer culture, etc.
It is also self-referential and, despite being quite sick of postmodernism (the trials of being an English major), I decided to stick with this book. The main character Alice Butler may be very intelligent, but she is never arrogant about it, and her voice guided me through prime numbers and The Riemann Hypothesis, as well as homeopathy and plans for a revolution. She taught me about basic code-breaking, growing up without a tv, and wanting to change the world.
Thomas throws about every literary device and theme out there into a bag, shakes it up a bit and comes up with PopCo. There are elements of mystery, lots of pop culture and criticism thereof, an eccentric (boarding) school, a company that pays you for thinking and being weird (the most sinister project of PopCo is the one of the ultimate product for teenage girls). At the end of the book you are presented with a possible means of changing the world, a puzzle, a cake recipe (Let them eat cake cake-how awesome is that?), but the mystery of Alice´s necklace is not so very satisfyingly solved. A fair warning: Don´t expect too much of that angle! It felt to me that Thomas somehow forgot to really make this about the promised mystery, and explored every other mystery of modern life instead. Perhaps she found a better way of juggling those many topics and plots in The End of Mr. Y, I´m certainly curious to find out.
PopCo is a fun and interesting read, but some parts rather felt like chewing caramel. Not entirely unpleasant, but work nonetheless. In parts this novel was simply brilliant, and I think if the author learns how to keep the plot going, there won´t be any buts in reviews about her later novels.
Here are some of my favorite passages:
“I don´t really like it when strangers touch me. It makes me want to cry. Thus the night train.” (7)
“My hair doesn´t respond well to getting wet, and it doesn´t seem to enjoy becoming too dry either. It´s like a fragile hanging garden that I constantly have to tend to prevent it from wilting or dying.” (9)
“I love this time of year, when people start to rehearse for Christmas plays and pantomimes, and the air feels like it´s full of magic spells. This is the time of year when arriving home after school feels cosy, like going back to bed.” (141)
“There´s something so comforting about being a hero in a fantasy world, with a big bag of chocolate raisins and lots of tea, still on the sofa at three in the morning.” (182)
“Yet I have become a betrayer over nothing more complicated than not wanting to be teased at school.” (328)
“What a great idea, to make people feel that they belong to something, that their identity makes them special. If Hitler had been able to enlist a twenty-first-century marketing department, would he have been able to sell Nazism to everyone? Why not? You can just see a beautiful, thin woman with her long, blonde hair moving softly in the breeze, and the tagline `Because I´m worth it´. I am worth it. ME. I am worth the lives of others.” (195)