Book Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

Lexicon by Max Barry

When Suzanne (bibliosue) asked me whether I’d like her copy of Lexicon, I wasn’t sure what to say. Yes, the book sounds interesting and I read another good novel by this author, but sending it all the way across the world (OK, well, just to the next continent, but even so)… Anyway, my greed prevailed. Previously, I read Jennifer Government by Max Barry, which I enjoyed a lot. It’s a dystopian novel that was awful and good at the same time, if you know what I mean. I expected Lexicon to be dystopian, too, but now that I’ve read it, I would say it’s Speculative Fiction, which is really anything that isn’t standard fiction, I think.

So there I was with this beautiful hard cover with post-it notes from the author! Thank you so much, Suzanne, it’s a beauty.

Lexicon: What it is about

The publisher says: “At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren’t taught history, geography, or mathematicsthey are taught to persuade. Students learn to use language to manipulate minds, wielding words as weapons. The very best graduate as poets, and enter a nameless organization of unknown purpose.

Whip-smart runaway Emily Ruff is making a living from three-card Monte on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organizations recruiters. Drawn in to their strange world, which is populated by people named Brontë and Eliot, she learns their key rule: That every person can be classified by personality type, his mind segmented and ultimately unlocked by the skillful application of words. For this reason, she must never allow another person to truly know her, lest she herself be coerced. Adapting quickly, 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 Parke is brutally ambushed by two men in an airport bathroom. They claim he is the key to a secret war he knows nothing about, that he is an outlier, immune to segmentation. Attempting to stay one step ahead of the organization and its mind-bending poets, Wil and his captors seek salvation in the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, which, if ancient stories are true, sits above an ancient glyph of frightening power.

A brilliant thriller that traverses very modern questions of privacy, identity, and the rising obsession of data-collection, connecting them to centuries-old ideas about the power of language and coercion, Lexicon is Max Barrys most ambitious and spellbinding novel yet.

Lexicon: What I thought

The story was set out in a confusing way, but luckily it came together in time for me to keep enjoying it. As I suspected rather early on, the story is not told in order. Some of the chapters took place long before the other (earlier) chapters. Also, the people change names, so you’re not always sure who is who. 

Wil, one of the main characters, conveniently lost his memory, so he can’t tell the reader anything they want to know. But once in Broken Hill, he starts to remember things, just in time to save the life of the person he travelled with.

The idea of words being so powerful that they can persuade people to do things they don’t want to do, was very good. In fact, a whole town was killed because of one word! That town is Broken Hill in Australia. As the writer says on one of the post-its: this town really exists. But I knew this already, because of the series The Flying Doctors which was based in Broken Hill, a series that I watched (and loved) many years ago.

I enjoyed every minute of reading the book, but sometimes I wondered what I’d been reading and why it took so many pages to say it in. The ending was very good. You try and fight someone with your eyes closed!

My opinion on who was the baddie and who was ‘good’ changed over the course of the book. I didn’t really feel attached to anyone in particular, but Wil was probably the most likable character. However, I can’t even remember what happened to him in the end.

So, a weird, fun, special book, but with some forgettable moments…

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (good)

Number of pages: 390

First published: 2013

I got this: from Suzanne (bibliosue), just because

Genre: contemporary fiction, speculative fiction, mystery


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10 Responses to Book Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

  1. Suzanne says:

    I am so glad you enjoyed it more than I did.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Suzanne, yes, I certainly did like it a lot more. It had confusing bits and it wasn’t 100% fantastic, but the subject was really original and so that made the reading a great experience. Thanks again!

  2. Doublechecking this is on my TBR. Sounds really intriguing! So glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Candiss says:

    Thanks for a great (and non-spoilery) review! I’m in the middle of reading this book right now and am really enjoying it. I’ve previously also read Jennifer Government and Syrup, both of which I liked, and Machine Man, which I loved…although I warn people that it’s heavy on the gallows humor and cynicism, in case that isn’t their cup of literary tea.

    Max Barry has ended up on my Read Everything This Author Writes list.

  4. I put this on my maybe-want-to-read pile, because it sounds interesting.

  5. Leslie says:

    I liked this a little more than you did. I wasn’t sure what genre to put it in and finally settled on “thriller”. I thought the ending was a little too vague and I’m not really sure how they got to where they ended up at the conclusion… which is why you probably don’t remember what happened to Wil. I’m not too sure I know either! Perhaps there is a sequel coming that might explain things.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Leslie, I can’t quite envisage a sequel, but actually, it would be fun to see if there’s more the author can think of. The idea was really good (words with power).

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