Review: Lexicon

lexicon ukBy Max Barry

Mulholland Books, out now

Wil Parke doesn’t understand why his life is being turned upside down over something as simple as a word…

The old tagline for Stephen King’s books was ‘Words are his power’, but Max Barry gives this idea a very different twist. On one level this is a labyrinthine conspiracy thriller in the Robert Ludlum tradition, where an apparent innocent gets caught up in events that are completely beyond their comprehension, and are forced into life or death situations for no readily obvious reason. As with these sorts of stories, you just know that more is going to come out than you expect, although some of the reveals in this case sneak up on you.

On another level, it’s a discourse on the way in which language changes. As a copy editor and proof reader, I have to be aware of the mutations which occur – what may have been right ten years ago isn’t correct today, and words accrete meanings that would simply not have occurred to an author even a decade ago. (Read books from between the First and Second World Wars to see clear examples of this.) Why do so many cultures have myths about people going from using one single language to multiple?

Barry posits that there are some words that can speak directly to parts of the brain bypassing the conscious and making people obey reflexively. Lexicon presents us with a number of people who may be after this, and confirms how bad an idea it would be for anyone to have that sort of power – and provides some sidebar conspiracy theories which hint that maybe we already take too much for granted.

Verdict: A thriller with an SF edge and some thought-provoking ideas. Recommended. 8/10

Paul Simpson

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