SOURDOUGH by Robin Sloan, Book Review

New novel from the author of Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Robin Sloan, about a life-changing loaf of bread.

Sourdough Book Review

Sourdough Synopsis

Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread.

Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive.  Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer’s market, where an exclusive close-knit club runs the show.

When Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?

(Text Publishing (Australia), MCD Books 2017)

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I do not envy bestselling debut novelists… the expectations we readers pile onto their second novel, and the comparisons that will inevitably be made to their break-out success.

I loved the good-natured retro geek chic of Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, the mystery and magic of the puzzle and its legacy. Could Robin Sloan turn his focus from books to bread and conjure that level of infectious interest, that beguiling quirkiness, that same sense of wonder and awe? Could that recipe be replicated?

For me (a late Gen-X reader) the answer is no. Robin Sloan’s Sourdough did not rise to the lofty heights of its predecessor.

I remain a fan of Sloan’s writing style, highlighting many passages as I read. His subtle humour and wordplay is ever present, if a little more restrained than in his debut. For me the weaknesses lies in Sourdough‘s ingredients rather than its telling.

Lois and many of the characters in this novel exhibit some of the darker traits of the Gen Y/Millenial stereotypes – a target for Sloan’s subtle satire.

Here’s a thing I believe about people my age: we are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.”

In a hurry to be recognised, but displaying a lack of genuine investment in a particular course, a sense of passivity as to who sets the goals. This in turn resonates as lack of personal satisfaction.

The internet: always proving that you’re not quite as special as you suspected.”

Still, Lois’s often knowing, world-weary observations do make her a likeable protagonist.

Greatest among us are those who can deploy “my friend” to total strangers in a way that is not hollow, but somehow real and deeply felt; those who can make you, within seconds of first contact, believe it.”

With the inclusion of some lovely older characters that become confidantes for Lois, Sloan goes some way to weaving gravitas and a sense of grandeur into the foodie storyline,

I have come to believe that food is history of the deepest kind. Everything we eat tells a tale of ingenuity and creation, domination and injustice-and does so more vividly than any other artifact, any other medium.”

but just like the email correspondence that develops alongside her foodie career, it was quietly charming but ultimately felt half-baked.

Sourdough is a very pleasant read…. I just wanted more.

PS: Fans of Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore will enjoy subtle references made the broader fictional world Robin Sloan established in that novel.

PPS: Sincerest apologies for my baking humour.

BOOK RATING: The Story 3 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

Robin Sloan Sourdough Review
Get your copy of Sourdough from:
Book Depository | AmazonKobo | B&N | IndigoBooktopia(Aus)

Genre: Drama, Humour, Mystery, Fantasy

About the Author, Robin Sloan

Robin Sloan is the author of Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and Sourdough. He splits his time between San Francisco and the internet. Check out the author’s website or connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

Other reviews of Sourdough

Goodreads, NPR, Kirkus Reviews, WashingtonPost, SanFrancisco Chronicle, BoingBoing