Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Max Barry, Lexicon

As I mentioned in this post, after reading a sample of Lexicon on kindle I immediately reserved the book from the library. 

The Plot: 'sticks and stones break bones, words kill'. At an exclusive school students are taught to persuade and manipulate other people using words, the very best will graduate as poets and will have the power to control people's minds. Emily is hustling on the street when she is recruited, under the guidance of Bronte, Lowell and Eliot she becomes the school's most talented pupil. Meanwhile Wil is violently attached in a airport bathroom, he has no recollection of what he is supposed to have done, or who his attackers are.
Max Barry, Lexicon, paperback, book cover, ISBN: 978144476480, UK edition, photograph, cover, review, book review, science fiction, words, novel semiotics, linguistics
ISBN: 9781444764680
Rating: «««¶¶ (3/5)

Full review under the cut *contains spoilers*:

I haven't really changed my original impression, as thought this would be an action driven novel, opposed to focussing of character developmental and I was right. I think the novel suffered as not enough time was spent exploring the impetus behind characters' actions. Emily, Wil, Elliot and Yeats don't really stand out as individuals. 

The narrative is also quite muddled, it is non-liner, at I was at time confused at the sequence of events. Perhaps, this was due to me not paying close enough attention, but I'm still bringing it up as a weakness. I had trouble understanding Wil's importance, he was the sole survivor of a 'bareword' attack (a bareword attack is a collection of syllables that make people into brainless puppets if the read or hear it), but I didn't see why it was vital for either the baddies or the goodies to capture him. Surely, it was more important just to find out what the bareword is and either, depending on your morals, either neutralise or utilise it? I didn't really care about Wil, too bland and whiny, so wasn't fussed if he ended up dead or not. Perhaps if  Max Barry had spent more time fleshing out his characters I wouldn't be so apathetic.    

I'm perhaps being a little harsh, Emily wasn't too bad as characters go. I like how messy she is, she is impulsive and temperamental. Her resorcefulness and grit made me warm to her. Her education was the most interesting part of the novel. What I didn't understand though, was after the students have gone through some extensive training, and learn to wield words in a way that can manipulate and influence people like magic, they don't go to achieve much after graduation. The corporation, headed by Yeats, responsible for recruiting and training 'poets' then squanders their abilities. It wasn't clear what the aims of the corporation where- money and power I'm assuming, but their mission wasn't explicit. It made Emily's training and the bareword seem pointless. Unless the bareword was created just to induce mindless violence, I don't understand the benefits. 

I dunno it just seemed like something vital was missing. 

Max Barry, Lexicon, paperback, ISBN: 978144476480, UK edition, photograph, cover, review, book review, science fiction, words, novel semiotics, linguistics

Lexicon despite it's problems does have some smart ideas. If you have an interest in linguistics or semiotics, there is plenty in this book for you. Giving words the power to kill, literally, is a clever and I enjoyed learning about the root of words, and different rhetoric. Perhaps the novel would have been more successful if it was longer, if the ideas and people in the novel and the space and time to develop, instead of been speed through. Saying that though, the quick pace of the novel is also a positive, I didn't have the time to be bored, and there was never a lull in the action, plenty of chases and skirmishes. 

The novel also made me reconsider how I use language. I agree with the assertion that people don't use words to the greatest effect and that exaggeration has somewhat diminished the power of words. The word 'awesome' is used as an example in the book, it has become over-used so that when we do genuinely see something that is 'awesome', that is to say 'awe-inspiring' we don't have words to express it properly. Also fun fact, 'awful' used to mean 'full of awe', but has been redefined over time. The parts of the novel that look at these sort of trends and use of language really appealed to me, and were the redeeming feature of the novel. By the way if you are interested in this kind of thing, I suggest you read The Adventure of English 

To conclude, for a novel about the power of words and the persuasion, Lexicon failed to convince me. Although I was mildely entertained, I certainly wasn't awed. 

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