At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren't taught history, geography, or mathematics - at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science. Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as "poets": adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.
Whip-smart orphan Emily Ruff is making a living running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization's recruiters. She is flown across the country for the school's strange and rigorous entrance exams, where, once admitted, she will be taught the fundamentals of persuasion by Brontë, Eliot, and Lowell - who have adopted the names of famous poets to conceal their true identities. For in the organization, nothing is more dangerous than revealing who you are: Poets must never expose their feelings lest they be manipulated. Emily becomes the school's most talented prodigy until she makes a catastrophic mistake: She falls in love.
Meanwhile, a seemingly innocent man named Wil Jamieson is brutally ambushed by two strange men in an airport bathroom. Although he has no recollection of anything they claim he's done, it turns out Wil is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets and is quickly caught in their increasingly deadly crossfire. As the two narratives converge, the shocking work of the poets is fully revealed, the body count rises, and the world crashes toward a Tower of Babel event which would leave all language meaningless.
©2013 Max Barry (P)2013 Penguin Audio
I have been a voracious reader since I was a child.
The synopsis looked great and I was very happy with both the male and female narrators (though the woman did an Australian accent terribly, it wasn't too distracting). But the storytelling was a letdown. Crazy, gritty chase and destruction scenes played out for far too long. Instead of going on and on about them, the author should have taken more time to develop the story surrounding what these students were learning and why. The sci-fi nerd in me wanted more details about the mechanics of mind control, and fewer high speed chase scenes. This could have been a great novel.
As I began listening to "Lexicon," I couldn't help but draw parallels to "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. In both books, the protagonist is a disadvantaged teenage girl using her smarts to beat the elite who control the masses in a near future dystopian society. I enjoyed "The Hunger Games" a lot. I enjoyed "Lexicon" almost as much.
The difference is, Lexicon kept me hankering after details and information that would explain exactly where these characters came from and how they tick. Author Max Barry knows how to tell a story - and crafting a tight, exciting plot is clearly his strength. I wonder if he's written screen plays because that's the flavor of this book every once in awhile. And yet I have to concede, Max Barry is a talented wordsmith, so why not use some of those words to explain some "whys" in addition to the "whats" and "whens?" Maybe clue us in on how the characters became who they are before they hit the ground running for the thrill ride of "Lexicon." The characters seemed almost incidental to the story, if that makes any sense. The author's amazingly creative idea of a world where words are weapons and transparency is weakness, intrigued me. However, in his excitement to show the reader all the cool stuff that happens in this world, characterization suffers. Barry glosses over details that would give the story more poignancy and heart. The biggest explosion or gun battle ends up sort of "meh" for me if I'm not significantly invested in the person in peril.
All in all, I liked "Lexicon." The ideas and themes of the novel are worth pondering. The warning bell sounded in response to our society's propensity for sharing information way too easily (but wait a sec! I got 10% off at Macy's just for signing up for their emails!) is ample food for thought. It's just that in the real world, providing personal information for your novel's protagonist elevates the book from "good" to "great."
The premise was excellent. The writing simply didn't live up to it.
The parts where the protagonist is young and "innocent" are way too simplistic. The effort to build suspense is too painstaking and heavy handed. The language that the author creates to show the power of words is almost ridiculous. Most of the characters are one-dimensional, even the ones who supposedly 'change' do so in very predictable ways.
Maybe this is a novel for teens and I missed that. It was certainly not for me. I could not make myself finish it.
The male narrator is not bad. The female narrator is grating.
I would give this book 2.5 to 3 stars.The idea of the book was good however the writing was quite simplistic, it was quite disjointed and there were was one part in particular which was quite illogical and didn't make sense.. The author never really developed his ideas and I was left wondering why he introduced some of them. Many chapters just ended and left things unexplained which is often a great way for the reader to use their imagination, in this case, however it felt more like the author either didn't know how to explain it.
I thought that the narrators did a good job except for the appalling Australian accents. The male wasn't too bad but truly it would have been better if the lady did not attempt it. Very off putting for Australian readers.
I found the book to be an easy, pleasant enough listen but definitely lacking and didn't reach it's full potential. I won't be reading any other Max Barry books.
Didn't know what to expect, and it took me a little while to figure it out but I really got into it. The time jumping got a little confusing, but it made it more interesting all said, and I do think that it told the story better that way. I really couldn't put it down. Have a 5 min break? Ok, I'll fire up audible! I'll do the dishes today, just gimme my headphones!
Without spoling the book, the premise is that we are all bio-computers who have words as our base code. Words have a magical ability to cause us to be manipulated. Too bad that the words used by the author fell flat and the sinister plot lines really hard to believe.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
The power of the spoken word. Words can kill. Words hurt. The pen is mightier than the sword. Metaphors about how effective language can be in influencing people, for good or ill. I'm sure you can easily add to that list. In Lexicon, Max Barry grabs onto this idea, and as is his wont, he relentlessly pursues to its logical conclusion.
People with the power of persuasion learn how to read personalities and then use words to extend that power to the ultimate degree. These people take on the names of famous poets. Emily Ruff is a teenager recruited into this dread poets' society, mentored by Tom Eliot (T.S. Eliot), taught by Charlotte Bronte, antagonized by Yeats. She herself is given the name Virginia Woolf when she graduates.
Great idea. The story built around it, jumping back and forth in time, is well crafted, a fun and illuminating listen. There is, however, one problem, one huge problem. Barry has turned a common metaphor into a literal device, where the words used to control people are random sounds with no meaning of their own. How much more interesting would this have been had the poets used meaningful words to manipulate people based on their psychological profile? Why oh why take a metaphor so literally?
I deduct two stars from Story for this major missed opportunity. I have enjoyed all four Max Barry books that I have read, and this one really works well in audio format thanks to the two excellent narrators. I look forward to reading more of him. He consistently pits bright young people from ordinary walks of life against powerful people and institutions, demonstrating how absolute power corrupts absolutely. It's an important message he conveys imaginatively in several different ways. With my one major caveat, Lexicon fits in nicely.
To call the premise pseudo science would be an insult to phrenology. The characters are totally unbelievable and less than one dimensional. Just a series of killing scenes driven by profane dialogue that sounds the same no matter who is talking.
Narrators were great. They kept me listening. Story was not my favorite. Too sci-fi for me. Don't like alternative realities.
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