Max Barry




Date Reviewed:

March 23, 2014

exicon is a nonstop page turner. Right from the opening chapter, we meet Wil Parke as he is abducted in the airport restroom. Why anyone would want to abduct a carpenter is a good question, but everything moves so quickly there is little time for explanation. The story is immediately thrown into gunfire and autocrashes and strange behavior (Why is Wil's wife unwilling to drive the car?). The two men trying to spirit Wil out of the airport try to convince him that if he doesn't come with them, then the poets (a rival team?) will certainly kill him. Eventually, the reader figures out what is happening, but all the while Wil and Eliot are fleeing from a ruthless, powerful team of agents led by the relentless, fearsome Woolfe.

There are two story arcs in this novel - the dramatic flight of Wil and his pursues, and a second thread that tells the story of Emily Ruff, a young teenage girl who survives on the streets by swindling tourists in games of three card monte. Emily is approached by a sharply dressed man named Lee, who is handing out brief surveys to passerbys. It asks a few simple questions like - what is your favorite color? Are you a dog or cat person? Why did you do it? Emily wants nothing to do with Lee and his questionaire, but he offers to buy her some fast food, so she plays along - and soon finds herself spirited off to a strange, elite school. At this unusual academy, Emily is taught a lot about words, grammar, discipline, speaking. It is through Emily's education that we learn why Wil is so desperately sought, and what the stakes are.

There are some plot elements that didn't make sense to me - for example, why stick the needle in Wil's eye in airport? There isn't any information in his brain to extract, and Eliot and his team KNOW that already. What was Yeats goal? Yeats plan remained nebulous throughout - he had obviously been operating the school for years and had built a large, loyal and competent team - but we never really learn for what purpose. Finally, I am bewildered by some of the events and behaviors of the characters in the last twenty five pages of the book, but I don't want to be more specific about such crucial plot elements. Lexicon is definitely worth picking up, and once you start reading, you won't read anything else until you finish it. The high-energy plot really does zip along.

Lexicon is full of violence (there is a huge body count) and action and it moves at a terrific pace, but I am not sure it would translate well to a movie screen. Would these concepts of words as verbal weapons convincingly translate to pictures?

This book reminded me of Snowcrash, by Neal Stephenson. Snowcrash covers a similar theme about how are brains are wired for language, and what can happen if someone learns how to use the underlying language that humans use to think. Snowcrash has a lot more explanation of how humans think and speak, while Lexicon simply hints at such ideas without spelling anything out. Snowcrash is definitely recommended as well as Lexicon.