Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A review of Max Barry's Lexicon

 Max Barry’s Lexicon became a must buy after I heard the author read part of its frenetic and humorous opening at last year’s Melbourne Writers Festival.

The novel has a wonderful premise. It is set in a world where poets and the words they use can be deadly weapons. Poets use their words to compromise people and force them do their bidding. But it is not as easy as just saying a few words, a poet first has to establish the personality traits of their victim to know which words will control them.

The story begins with Wil Parke having a needle shoved in his eye by two thugs who have dragged him into an airport toilet. He has no idea what they want from him, but decides he better keep still. Meanwhile, Emily Ruff , a young hustler, is accosted by one of her potential marks. He compromises her and she winds up in the poet’s training academy.

Their stories unfold in alternating chapters, as the stakes increase. It is clear that at some point their stories will have to connect, but that connection does not come as a revelation, it is more of a slow reveal that occurs as the novel charges from one tension filled page to the next. It’s a page turner, with two engaging central characters whose plight embraces a reader’s empathy.

Lexicon was voted the fourth favourite science-fiction/fantasy book on Goodreads last year. It was also included in a list of the best books of 2013 that you have never heard of in, an article in the Melbourne Age. It recently won the Aurealis award for best Australian science-fiction novel.

Lexicon is a great science-fiction/fantasy novel. One of the best written by an Australian. Its original premise takes readers on one fantastic road trip to a totally satisfying conclusion. The novel had me wanting to visit Broken Hill before the poets arrive.


graywave said...

Fantasy? OFFS! I had planned to read it too, but I'm so sick of buying alleged sci-fi books that turn out to be fantasy. Thanks for the warning.

Graham Clements said...


I have thought more about the genre of Lexicon since I wrote the review. Can a book that revolves around the power of words to influence and control others be considered science-fiction? Does science drive the plot of Lexicon? Not unless it is the science of words. The more I think about it, the more Lexicon is a modern day fantasy. A bit like American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. So I am curious why it was included in the science fiction category of the Aurealis awards. Barry's previous novel, Machine Man, which I very much enjoyed too, was very much science-fiction, so perhaps that influenced me in my original categorising of Lexicon as science-fiction/fantasy. Having said all that, Lexicon is still a very good novel.

Anthony J. Langford said...

Cheers for the heads up and review.. That's pretty good accolades and ive heard good things about Barry - perhaps from you.

I've been wanting to visit Broken Hill ever since I saw Wake In Fright. This sounds good.

Graham Clements said...

Anthony, I have mentioned him a few times, so you probably heard about him from me. I keep on getting another of his novels Jennifer Government recommended to me by others.