Scarlett Thomas, PopCo, 2004.
I have an odd fascination with Thomas’ writing despite its flaws. There’s something deeply attractive that I can’t identify or explain about her writing—and whatever it draws me back to read yet another of her novels—and yet, there are issues that make me frustrated with it at the same time. PopCo is much like her more recent The End of Mr. Y.
PopCo is the fictionalised retelling of Naomi Klein’s No Logo. Alice Butler, who works for the toy company which gives the book its name, attends a product development camp in Devon—and is seconded to a group charged with developing the new viral product for teen girls. In the pseudo-boarding school environment of the camp, there’s sex, suspicion, cliques, games of Go, and interesting food recipes (one for a tasty sounding cake called “Let them eat cake”). This tale is interwoven with that of Alice’s childhood: she was raised by her grandparents (a mathematician and a puzzler) after her father ran off to try to solve a coded treasure map his father-in-law had deciphered. The former set of stories lacks sparkle and teaches too much about advertising and marketing; the second set tries to balance narrative and exposition about code-breaking, without entirely succeeding.
Despite the entirely predictable ending to both sets of stories, there is something deeply endearing about this book. I was captivated by both the stories and what Thomas is trying to teach. And who can dislike a book with a frequency table for how often letters occur in written English? It’s worth reading, especially if you’re a Naomi Klein fan or like your harlequin-esque sex mixed with some decent thinking.