Review: Lexicon, by Max Barry

lexicon every story written is 
marks upon a page
The same marks, 
repeated, only 
differently arranged

Max Barry’s part science fiction, part thriller, part speculative fiction, novel Lexicon tells the dual story of Wil Parke and Emily Ruff. The story begins with a needle in Wil’s eyes, as strangers try to access information they desperately want from his brain. Emily Ruff is a sixteen year old girl living on the streets, making money by persuading strangers to engage in her card games and tricks. One day, a strange man wins her game without even looking at the cards. This man is the catalyst of the rest of the novel. He tells her about a school where she can learn to control language in a way she never thought possible. This was all a part of a very secret, special organization, looking for students just like her.

 It is at this school that Emily learns about the poets: people who are exceptionally skilled at using words for persuasion, and are given the names of legendary poets. As Emily begins to put together the pieces of language and how it can be used to compromise and persuade people with just the right combination of words, Wil Parke is being held at gunpoint by a man named Eliot (as in T.S. Eliot), who insists he can give him information about a life in Broken Hill, Australia, he doesn’t remember. As the novel unfolds at a breathless pace, the entwined history of Emily and Wil and the poets is revealed, as they come together to stop English as the world knows it from disappearing forever. 

I was really hesitant about this book because I knew it was more science fiction-y than I usually like to read, but I borrowed it from my boyfriend nonetheless and soon found that half the day had slipped away while I read. Lexicon draws you in with action and keeps you with the concept of the power of words. I enjoyed Emily’s chapters more, because the language and the school and what they could do were really compelling, but as the book went on and the chapters all came together, it only got better. It really makes you think, because we make people do what we want using only our words every single day, without even thinking about it. But what if we DID think about? What if every person had a segment that allowed you to figure out just how to persuade them and compromise them? Lexicon answers those questions, and shows what happens when one person is immune to that power, in one of the most thought provoking and page-turning books I’ve read in a while.

The one tiny drawback of the book was the ending, which felt slightly rushed. There was so much build up to what happened with Broken Hill and Yeats (who I couldn’t help but picture as President Snow from The Hunger Games) and so little resolution in the end. I wanted to know more about what happened after, not just the fact that love conquers all, that’s so cliche!

I gave a pretty long summary but still left so much out because I didn’t want to give anything away, since you should really experience it for yourself. It’s out in paperback now, so next time you want to read something really different than you’re used to, you should definitely give Lexicon a try. I was pleasantly surprised and you could be too!

The most fundamental thing about a person is desire. It defines them. Tell me what a person wants, truly wants, and I’ll tell you who they are, and how to persuade them.


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