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
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.
Long term book junkie only recently addicted to audio books. Now my iPod and I are inseparable.
Max Barry is now one of my "I think I'll read everything he's written" authors.
I've been reading science fiction for decades, so I know how rare it is to come across a book like "Lexicon" which has not just a new ideas, but a clever, well-thought through plot, written by someone who is skilled at dialogue, characterisation and action scenes and who can unfold the story in a way that engages the reader's intellect and emotions.
The basic premise of "Lexicon" is that words have the power to control how we think and behave and that this power can be shaped into a weapon by those with the right skills.
The characters constantly explain how influence and manipulation work: get someone to pay attention to the wrong thing, play on their emotions to shape their perception of good and evil, understand their personality and then pry their psyche apart. Despite this, it took me several chapters to realize that Max Barry had been manipulating me from the first page onwards.He did it by controlling the order in which I received information, who I received it from and the emotional terms used to convey it. At least twice in the novel I had to reset what I thought I knew to be true. Barry didn't cheat. All the information correctly to understand what is going on is there but my own assumptions make me see one thing and read another.
A book that is about weaponising words is likely to appeal to those of us with a recreational addiction to fiction. We KNOW words have power, so we are ripe for the ideas in this novel. If, like me, you've been trained in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), public speaking, influencing skills, psychometric assessment and you read tarot cards and palms as a party trick, then the early parts of this book are frighteningly familiar. The book takes what I know I can do and then asks me to imagine what a motivated person, with REAL talent, no social ties, no inhibitions and the support of an organization with generations of research at their disposal, could achieve.
"Lexicon" is filled with coercion, violence and killing from the first page. Max Barry doesn't pull his punches but he doesn't turn the violence into pornography either. He makes it too real and too repulsive for that.
His main evil-incarnate character is suitably chilling but I could write that off as stereo-type. Elliot and Emily I got to know and like and care about, so what they did, to others, to each other and to themselves had much more impact.
My only niggle with the book is the last chapter. It's not where I would have gone with this. It felt like the kind of thing Hollywood might have changed in the movie version to ensure they stayed firmly in the summer blockbuster segment. But then, I'd never have thought up something as clever and powerful as "Lexicon" in the first place, so I'll go with Barry's judgement.
I listened to "Lexicon" as an audiobook, which, I think, made the book even more exciting. Zach Appleman did a splendid job as the rugged, world-weary, Elliot. His American accents are perfect and he at least managed to sound like he'd been to Australia. Heather Corrigan was marvellous at evoking Emily's vulnerability and her strength but her attempts at Australian accents ranged from unconvincing to inappropriately hilarious. Nevertheless, both narrators kept me listening, often on the edge of my seat.
Max Barry is back in top form. This entertaining musing on the power of words may go to extremes to get it's point across but in a world drowning in con men disguised as salesmen this is exactly the modern parable we should celebrate.
Maybe, I usually don't come back to fast paced thrillers like this but it felt like there was something more going on that I missed.
Eliot was the most interesting to me but just because he felt like he had the most history and internal conflict throughout the story. But he also doesn't go through as dramatic and interesting an arc as Emily does it's kind of a toss up.
Corrigan's Emily and Appleman's Eliot too difficult to compare. I'll go with Corrigan's Emily just because I feel she really brings some sympathy to a character who needs later on down the line.
It's difficult to share without giving a lot away, but suffice it to say I really enjoy Max Barry's romances in his books.
This is a magic system that really means something besides creating cool fight scenes. It gives a real image to the power of words and knowledge. The most powerful characters in this story are those who know how to read people and how to exploit that. Intelligence and charisma really are dangerous tools in this world just like they are in ours. Dang, I love this book.
Heather Corrigan's voice is hypnotic. I'd listen to her read the phone book!
It was too long to listen to all at once, but I pretty much listened to it whenever I could and didn't want to put it down.
I liked the structure of the book, the parallel stories that came together and moved apart. I also enjoyed the way one's frame of reference for certain characters or institutions would be fundamentally changed as the book progressed. That increased the roller coaster sense of being on a wild ride with the narrative.
Good story and characters. Very good performance.
The book would be 1/3 to 1/2 shorter if the "f" word were removed.
This is my first Max Barry book, and I was very impressed. A very engaging story, good writing that held together, good narration. It was one of those audio books where I could not wait to get into my truck to listen to it. Well done!
Say something about yourself!
This is Max Barry's take on the theme of how language affects thought with a special focus on language as a code for hacking the brains of other people in order to control them. There are many interesting ideas here, although the fiction does tend to outweigh the science most of the time and the book slips into the fantasy zone on occasion. Nevertheless, the story is strong enough to counter the hand waving going on, and you can't help caring about Barry's very complicated and compelling characters. I would recommend Neal Stephenson's "Snowcrash," and Samuel R. Delaney's "Babel 17" as earlier novels on this same theme. If you read them first, you will actually catch some of the subtle nods to these stories in Barry's book.
Lots of unnecessary graphic violence and swearing. Premise is intriguing but the story didn't come together until the very end. Leaping from one scene to another made it awkward to follow. Characters could be better developed. Not terrible, could have been great.
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."
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