Review: PopCo- Scarlett Thomas

PopCo (Sept):

Recently, I was lucky enough to win a three month subscription to Warm Vellum Books on Twitter. It’s a business with a really interesting concept- you fill out as much as you would like of a 41 question questionnaire. They then match you with a book to suit who you are and where you’re currently at.

I filled in the questionnaire the day after my grandma died and I was very, very detailed and honest. The questionnaire is wide reaching and interesting. You fill it in and… you wait. The book is posted on the 1st of the month. I was so excited- and I got a book I would never, in a million years, have chosen for myself, but it was extraordinarily what I needed to read at the moment.

PopCo tells the story of 29-year-old toy designer and mathematically gifted Alice Butler, who loves codes. Alice begins the novel on a night train bound for a weekend conference for PopCo, the international toy conglomerate in which she works. Whilst there, she becomes involved in a top secret project, all the while receiving strange coded messages.

In amongst the intrigue, we also see Alice’s childhood through flashbacks; we learn about the grandparents who brought her up and who instill a love of all things maths and coding; her difficult teenage years; and her grief for her grandparents-especially her grandfather- after they have died.

I loved this book. I loved how Alice was slightly awkward and out of place at PopCo and a lot of the things she thinks about in the novel are things I’ve thought about. Even the maths/coding stuff, which usually wouldn’t appeal to me seemed generally quite interesting (although I must confess, some of the explanations of prime numbers lost me at times.) But I liked that this was just part of Alice’s character, rather than a very earnest attempt to get me to like maths. There’s also loads of interesting stuff on ethics, marketing and our place in the world and all make sense, as we have the same thoughts at the same time as we read.

All in all, I loved this book- it was just what I needed at a time of my own grief and I’m looking forward to a) reading more Scarlett Thomas novels and b) receiving my next Warm Vellum delivery.

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