popcoscarlettthomas48850_f.jpgI finished this a week or so ago but decided not to post until I had had a chance to think through why I loved this novel so much. PopCo is written by Scarlett Thomas of End of Mr Y fame (you can read my views on that here), and I have gone in search of her other works in the hopes that they are as good as these two – not all of her writing is easy to come by though, which is a shame.

PopCo is ostensibly about a toy company where Alice Butler works designing a particular range of toys which call on her interest and expertise in ciphers and code breaking, which she inherited from her grandfather. There are two mysteries at the heart of this story – one is the exact purpose of the retreat Alice goes on with co-workers, the other is a mystery from her past which is connected to the necklace she always wears. Add to that a romance with a colleague and as you can see there is a lot of plot, but it never felt too heavy or contrived to me, partly because I’m a sucker for stories about codes etc., but also because Alice herself is such a wonderful, believable character with a full selection of neuroses and worries, who spends a large part of the novel in bed self-medicating on homeopathic remedies. Her “constant conundrum: how do you identify yourself as someone who doesn’t fit in when everything you could possibly do demarcates you as someone who does?”

The mysteries are satisfyingly resolved, at least as far as I was concerned, there’s an interesting extra chapter in the paperback version and a short interview with her about the “puzzle” of storytelling. She is also interviewed in Issue 36 of Mslexia, which I haven’t read properly but looks fascinating.