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Sunday, 13 September 2009 02:00


By  Lisa Witepski
A Sunday Independent review for PopCo boldly states that 'this book might just change your life'. It's a big assertion, but then author Scarlett Thomas certainly wasn't thinking small when she wrote this story. And, while I'm not sure that my life has been dramatically transformed since reading it, it made me think long and hard about a number of facets of our culture and society I've previously not questioned.

The storyline itself is not the book's strong point: in fact, as plots go, it's rather unimpressive. Alice Butler works for the eponymous PopCo, a major global toy brand. Her skills lie in code-breaking – which come in handy as the narrative unfolds. If you can call it that – in essence, Alice joins her colleagues at a company-wide conference where she starts receiving mysterious letters, in code, from an anonymous correspondent. These get her thinking about her job, her company, and her values, as well as those of society at large, and she's encouraged to take make some brave changes.

It's not difficult to see that if you're reading PopCo in search of a meaty storyline, you'd be somewhat disappointed. But it offers something far more satisfying that a rip-roaring tale: a stimulating debate about modern lifestyles that's bound to linger on in your mind. Thomas is no stranger to tackling controversial issues: in The End of Mr Y, she turned her razor gaze and vinegar tongue to the subject of animal testing; in this book, she's far more wide-reaching in her criticism. From greenwashing to consumerism, from the dominance of Corporates to computer culture – she delves to the heart of twenty-first century culture, pulls out its blackest attributes, and makes your rethink the way you view them. She gets through a surprising number of them, too, in a way which is admirably concise and succinct, without being overtly preachy. It wouldn't be unfair to expect a book of this nature to be a droning diatribe about one person's take on society, but Thomas succeeds in the extremely complex task of presenting an argument in an engaging and thought-provoking manner.

Make no mistake – this isn't the sort of book you'd take with to Clifton, but if you're looking to be challenged and informed, you won't be disappointed.

by Scarlett Thomas
Canongate, 2009
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