Well, this isn’t really a review. Just my thoughts on this novel.
I first heard about Max Barry through one of my favourite podcasts, TOFOP (or FOFOP as it’s known now) when the host Wil Anderson was describing how he couldn’t put down an early copy (he went to high school or something with the author) on a long flight. As my husband has recently started reading more often, I have been trying to find new authors for him to read, as he is fast running out of Neil Gaimen and Terry Pratchett to read.
So. We had had a bet in our house on the sex of the Baby Cambridge, and it was for a new novel. Mark won, and I bought him this. He read it in a couple of days, so I thought it would be a good break from the long, involving ‘Of Human Bondage’ that I am making my way through.
I read ‘Lexicon’ in a day. Well, I started it on the Tuesday night and finished it on Wednesday. It is gripping. It is set in a fantasy world within our real world. It plays on the fears and concepts of conspiracy theorists, and is, as the name suggests, focused on language. The limitations and potential of language, mainly. There is an organization, called the poets, who wield the power of language to… well we are never sure what it actually is that the poets do, outside of researching/exploring/experimenting with the power of language. But, the characters are interesting and I loved the way the ‘poets’ were named, and, most importantly, the dual narratives move a long quickly.
The plot follows Wil, a man who is attacked in the bathroom at an airport, and following several violent altercations, runs off with one of the men who attacked him. The other plot follows the life of young Emily, a street kid and hustler, who finds herself attending an exclusive boarding school.
The story moves easily between the American and Australian settings. The scene when Emily arrives in Sydney and asks to be taken to Broken Hill is perfect (although you can fly there from Sydney, you don’t have to go to Adelaide first). Broken Hill is well written and rings true, without giving into stupid stereotypes, or making Australians look like dumb hicks. I wanted to spend more time at the academy, but I guess that is the child in me, the child who loved reading any books about boarding school adventures, or the adult who loved Harry Potter. Don’t be confused though, this is no Hogwarts! I liked that the kids were not there to make friends, and the mystery around recruitment and success in the academy was perfectly balanced.
Yeats made a good antagonist; using the name of my favourite male poet to signify his power both satisfied and annoyed me. I wanted to defend him, but I liked the power associated with the name.
Emily makes an interesting heroine but I was much more invested in Eliot as a character than Harry, Wil or Emily. Eliot, the quiet, contemplative type, broke my heart. I found his back story and history at the academy really intriguing, and I would have liked to know more about his relationship with Emily and why things turned out the way they did – his feeling of responsibility and guilt was well explained but I wanted more. And I guess I wanted more in the sense that I didn’t want the book to end. I wanted to explore every nook and cranny of the story, understand Bronte better, and Eliot’s childhood.
It may have been because I devoured the novel so quickly, but the ending didn’t affect me the way I thought it would have. I absolutely adored the exploration of language, and the ideas Barry explored. I thought the description of words as recipes for a chemical reaction in our brains was perfection. The love story fell a little short for me, but I really think that is demanding a lot of an author who is presenting an interesting story, plenty of action and a non-put-down-able plot. I just.. wanted to see Emily more in love. See moments of them being in love rather than just when they are having sex. I wanted to be with Harry when that changed in his head, and I wanted to know why he said no when Emily wanted his help. But when I talked to my husband about that, he shrugged his shoulders. Different audiences, I suppose! Again, finiky pickings of a novel I really enjoyed.
I will be recommending this novel to everyone, and possibly giving it to my brother in law for Christmas. Perfect holiday or plane reading – on a plane you want something that will distract you from the environment you’re in – and this book will do it!
If you’ve read it, let me know what you think!