Around Spring/Summer of last year I read The End Of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas and thought it was AMAZING, I genuinely loved it, the story and the philosophical questions it posed. As a result I definitely wanted to read other work by her. I didn't do so immediately largely because I didn't want to read PopCo in too close a promixity to The End Of Mr Y, I wanted to enjoy it in it's own right. I didn't want to spend time reading it wishing I was still reading Mr Y.
Where Mr Y tackled quantum physics and existential philosophy within a fictional structure; PopCo has two strands, mathematics specifically cryptography and corporate globalisation. If you think those two don't sound like they go together you'd be right.
PopCo is the story of Alice Butler, a traditional geeky misfit who wrote crosswords for a living until she was headhunted by toy company PopCo. Alice wears a necklace, a gift from her grandfather at the age of nine, within this necklace lies a key to an age old mystery a secret which pervaded Alice's childhood. Alice travels to a country manor to participate in a work team building conference but whilst there recieves a series of coded messages, but who are they from, and what are they about? I loved this side of the story, it was just good old fashioned storytelling at it's best. You cared about Alice, her development as a character during her time at the PopCo retreat, the new general knowledge imparted to you as a reader via the fiction, her rebellious yet moral grandfather. The book also does some quirky things like including a cake recipe, a crossword and a list of prime numbers, and some great lateral thinking puzzles. There is also a painfully accurate depiction of what it's like to be a teenage girl.
Which is why when a degree of authorial intrusion occurs towards the end of the novel it is very grating. One character becomes a mouthpiece for the anti globalisation movement and rails against corporate exploitation, the global village and the tricks played upon the consumer, particularly the teenage consumer. I went to university around the time that No Logo by Naomi Klein was published and we studied it a lot during one or two semesters. The arguments presented in PopCo frustrated me, as it seemed very much an attempt to educate the reader upon these matters, and I had been there, done that quite some time ago. It felt very much like the author herself on a soapbox preaching to her readership than part of a natural progression in the novel itself. The resolution of the story of Alice's grandfather, by far the best aspect of the novel ends up becoming something of a forgotten postscript.
I also REALLY hated the postmodern twist towards the end when Alice tells her friends she will write a book about what it was like to work for a toy company. They tell her to change the name. So she calls it PopCo. Sorry if that's a spoiler, but I had to mention it, because it seriously annoyed me.
I hate stuff like that, the first time it's clever but not the umpteenth.
Did I enjoy PopCo? Yes, I did. I loved all the mystery aspect, Alice's childhood etc, but I hated the end and I hated being unsubtly preached at, both about globalisation and about veganism. I do think that it would be a great starting point for the more mature teenage girl as an introduction to socio-political issues, I don't know so much if it encourages the development of independent thought and debate though as it pretty much tells you what you ought to think.
I liked certain aspects of this novel, but it's messy and at times irritating. 7/10