Book Review: PopCo

I think I once worked out that if I read all the books I had on my Kindle wishlist (last count: 2160) at the rate of one a week, it would take me 41 years. And that's not including new books that are published or any of my challenges. So it's kind of inevitable that certain books get pushed down the list and, on some level, forgotten about. One of the books that fell into this category was Scarlett Thomas' PopCo, which came onto my to-read list after I fell in love with her novel The End of Mr Y but over the years had slipped from my mind completely.... until I picked up a copy in a haul of books my friend C gave me when she was moving house.

PopCo is the story of Alice, who works for the titular PopCo, a multinational toy company, and ends up being selected to stay behind after a team-building weekend to work on developing a new product aimed at teenage girls. Meanwhile, she starts receiving mysterious coded messages, which she suspects are linked with her grandparents, her father's disappearance and the key she's worn around her neck since childhood. The novel then hops between present day and Alice's childhood and teenage years as she attempts to work out who is trying to get in touch with her and why.

I always like a book with a bit of a mystery and one where I can learn something, and PopCo definitely had both of those in spades. I fully admit to not having a mathematical brain at all but I found the scenes with Alice's grandparents telling her about things like Fermat's Last Thereom and the role of mathematics in codebreaking during the Second World War really interesting. I also got really swept up in the mystery of who was sending Alice the notes, and loved how the book took you through how she cracked the code. Thomas also did a brilliant job of making PopCo a completely believable unique world whilst still instantly recognisable to anyone who's worked in an office in the past twenty years, from the corporate buzzwords that pepper the executives' vocabulary to the job titles that sound almost too ridiculous to be real, and of evoking that feeling of being a teenage girl who doesn't fit it for whatever reason and feeling desperate to be liked by the popular kids.

However, as I got swept along by the book, I started to realise that it was getting very close to the end and not much had actually happened. As a consequence, it seemed like everything was resolved very quickly and neatly, and I would have liked a little more time spent on the ending. And, now I've been away from it for a little while, I feel a bit cheated that we never truly found out what happened with one big part of the mystery. I felt like Thomas kind of ran out of steam a little bit, and it left me feeling a little bit disappointed.

That said, up until the last few chapters it was a great ride and I loved feeling immersed in the world of the mystery and the mathematics involved in Alice creating and cracking codes throughout the novel. And there aren't many books out there that would tell you how to write a code alongside a recipe for apple pie. So if you like novels that teach you something new and don't mind all the loose ends being tied up, then I'd say PopCo is worth a read. If nothing else, it's certainly one of a kind.

What's the most unusual novel you've ever read?


  1. Really need to start reading books again as at the moment I just read blogs. Glad I stumbled across your Blog for some good recommendations. The best book Ive read is Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Ive just bought the rest of his books so hopefully I will get back into it as I love turning the page of a book.
    New follower on Blogluvin
    Carrieanne x

    1. Thanks for the follow Carrieanne! I haven't read Shadow of the Wind but it's been on my list for a long time - will definitely have to check it out :)