My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s hard to find contemporary literature that crosses over with Sci-Fi that produces satisfying results, yet Max Barry manages this and then some with his latest novel Lexicon.
It starts at breakneck speed with the capture (and apparent torture) of male protagonist Wil as he fights against two agents determined to extract something via his eyeball (yeah…still uncurling the toes over that one) his subsequent escape and recapture while racing through an airport lounge. It appears the info the agents need could be vital in fighting an organisation known as The Poets, one in particular known only at this point as ‘Woolf’. Woolf’s done some bad things, some very bad things and it would seem only Wil can stop her.
We then meet Emily a young fraudster living on the streets. She’s good at would she does; she can read and persuade people and this brings her to the attention of the Poets. She’s scooped up (almost literally) and taken to a unique training facility where among other things, she’s taught the power of words and to hone her powers of persuasion.
We follow Wil, Emily, and an amazing cast of supporting characters as the novel gives us both the build-up as well as the aftermath of the ‘Very Bad Thing’. And that’s where Barry shines as an author. At no point is the reader patronised or spoon fed plot details; the chapters are simply numbered, there are no dates or locations as sub-headings and the book is merely separated in sections with only quotes from books or poems to guide the way. Barry acknowledges that the reader may well have the brains to work it all for themselves and this is so refreshing. It makes for a better novel too, as there are moments in the story that are genuinely jaw-dropping ‘did not see that coming’ affairs. Another excellent device is the use of other printed media at the end of each chapter; these range from memos to staff in the diner Emily has been using, news articles on incidents occurring in the story, even questionnaires used by the school to screen applicants.
I borrowed this from the library (after a lengthy wait) but will definitely be buying a copy to keep as I feel it’ll be one of those novels that you gain a little something more from on each reading. Full concentration is required (this isn’t a doze off at bedtime book) but you will be handsomely rewarded with a clever, mature and thought provoking read.