Two years ago something happened in Broken Hill, something that killed thousands, the entire population of the small Australian mining town. Although everyone was encouraged to believe that some form of "environmental disaster" was the cause there are a few people who know what really happened. Emily Ruff is one of them.
Emily is a part of an elite organisation who deal with the real power of language, "poets" who can use words to manipulate people and enslave them to their will. With a simple short phrase they can make people behave exactly as they see fit, kill or die - the best poets can make people do anything. Emily is one of the most promising recruit in this organisation until she makes one catastrophic mistake, she falls in love.
Will Park is another who knows what happened in Broken Hill, or at least he would know if he could just remember, all he has is the desire to run, from Broken Hill and from any poets. As their paths collide the past will finally be revealed and then the race will be on to control one of the most deadly weapons in existance: a word.
I am seriously impressed with this book, it seems so unassuming at first, after all words are just words, right? But the author manages to create a story where words hold real, tangiable power and can influence people in a much more direct way than a good speaker or story teller. Not only does he create this Lexicon world in a very believable way but also creates something that feels quite grounded to reality too, a literary style that holds the attention and disarms the reader. It's deceptively mainstream, easy reading enough to be seen in the none-genre charts and promoted as such and yet for those willing to look it's got so much more to offer than a casual read.
I loved the idea of profiling, introduced as a method of controlling others - if you know their "type" you can more easily manipulate them with a few choice words. After all psychologists and sociologists have been profiling people for decades (if not longer) and Max Barry just takes this one step further, something that makes a great deal of sense and helps to suspend the disbelief.
I must admit that I was pretty much hooked from beginning to end with this book, there is very little wasted space and as such the pace is swift and when combined with the quite frankly gifted prose produces a book that is difficult to get away from. The characters are engaging and ever so human in their strengths and weaknesses, Emily stealing the show with her complicated personality and cleverly drawn youth.
The author manages to highlight just how powerful words are, referencing historical events both real and fictional and creating a miasma that confuses over what is real and imagined. He educates us in the way we place so much faith, so much trust in words (from authorities to advertisers to internet articles) that the majority can be so easily led by, it's only when you get older that you begin to question these things and even then few really do.
Lexicon is one of those books that really makes you sit and think, not from any overcomplicated narrative but from the ideas that it creates, a remarkable read that will make you see the power of the word in a new light.
Written on Friday 21st June 2013 by Antony.
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