Book Review: "Popco", or, "Teen Crytographer, Adult Space-Case"


I don't tend to write about endings, at least not at length (not even Sense of an Endings. There's only so many words I can devote to hatred). Endings never satisfy me; denouements are a necessary evil to closing a relationship with a book/show/film that I've loved. It almost seems churlish to complain about an ending; everyone knows the hardest part for a writer is the saggy middle.

I'll make an exception for Popco. The ending, quite frankly, sucked. Scarlett Thomas's sudden wallow in cod freshmanphilosophy might have been less disappointing if the rest of the novel wasn't so damned perfect.

In Popco, Thomas takes disparate topics like advertising, advanced mathematics, cryptography, treasure-hunting, adolescent angst, toy-production and lust and somehow makes it work. The novel's funny, warm and incredibly inventive in its twists and turns. There's a children's adventure novel, a bildungsroman and a lost adult story all in one, and the swerves almost feel natural.

We follow Alice Butler from her creative agency retreat back to her childhood, spent helping her beloved grandparents decipher an encrypted treasure map (Thomas's tale of the fictional pirate took me straight back to the joys of my childhood). Her grandparents, like most of the characters that Alice sides with, are resolutely anti-authoritarian (her grandfather suffered great humiliation at the hands of one Alan Turing).

The anti-authoritarian streak of the novel is subtle and established, and we come to love Alice despite her eccentricities and social ineptitudes, cause goddamnit, she solves puzzles!

So the last 10% (thank you Kindle) of the novel throws out all the subtlety and elegance of what came before, substituting in leftist propaganda so juvenile that even early-90's Ethan Hawke would roll his eyes. There's an amorphous organization devoted to bringing down capitalism from the inside! They'll break down the walls of the corporatocracy with nothing more than plastic sporks! Marketing is evil!

What's even worse is how these platitudes are expressed. The emissary from the shadowy organization Ayn Rands all over the place, with a 20-page monologue about how righteous their cause is. A is A and B is B and this shit be cheesy.

You should still read it though. How many novels promise 90% perfection?

And look at that gorgeous cover:


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4 Responses to “ Book Review: "Popco", or, "Teen Crytographer, Adult Space-Case" ”

  1. Oh no! This is the last book in Scarlett Thomas's oeuvre (not including her very early works) that I have yet to read, so I'm sorry to hear the ending was bunk. I love just how zany her books can get, and a friend actually told me how much she loved this one, so I had high hopes. 

  2. Keep your hopes high, Steph, it is an excellent book. It's interesting that the you say that the last 10% is the worst because I have never read the ending (despite reading this book more than 3 years ago and having re-read it several times). Something stops me from completing it (maybe I would have to agree whole heartedly that the ending ruins what I too consider to be a (near) perfect book?)

  3. theoncominghope23 May 2012 at 10:48

    I think you can thoroughly enjoy the rest of the book even though the ending's pants.

  4. theoncominghope23 May 2012 at 10:48

    Ha that's really funny. I guess I'm the same with some other novels...(trying to think what they might be...)


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