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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Zeitgeisty, Clever But Politically Naive

PopCo - Scarlett Thomas

PopCo was the novel Scarlett Thomas wrote before The End Of Mr Y, though it's now being re-marketed after the success of the former. I found it as compelling as Mr Y but not as satisfying, particularly the ending.

It's the story of Alice, a twenty-something working for a global manufacturer of kid's toys. At a Thought Camp for creatives in Dartmoor, intended to help the company devise a new hugely successful product to be aimed at teenage girls, Alice wakes up to the immorality of the organisation she works for and discovers that there are others who share her revulsion for this kind of exploitation.

Woven into the plot is the backstory of Alice's upbringing by her grandmother, a respected mathematician who worked at Bletchley Park during the war, and her grandfather a cryptanalyist who is obsessed with unravelling two mysterious documents: the Voynich Manuscript (a real document from the fifteenth century) and the Stevenson/Heath manuscript ( a fictitious one created for the novel).

Like Mr Y, Popco is a book of ideas, many of them mathematical but none of them beyond a reasonably intelligent reader. It's zeitgeisty and clever but for me, the intelligence of the writing is not matched in the political analysis which forms the backdrop to the end of the book. This is all a bit stoned politics undergaduate. Despite this failing, Popco is enormous fun and I couldn't stop reading it.