Lexicon by Max Barry: A Review from Andrew Cattanach

by |July 31, 2013

Australian thriller writer Max Barry is back with a dazzlingly original high concept thriller. Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach takes a closer look.

I love writers who take risks. I live vicariously through them as I deliberate whether or not I add raspberry cordial to my lemonade, a gutsy maneuver.

Max Barry is one of those writers, an Australian author who constructs worlds that exist within our own, with rich characters and sharp dialogue. He’s a beauty. A brilliant writer, and his new book Lexicon is another cracker.

Lexicon throws us into the world of the poets. A secret organization that trains its members to manipulate others with linguistic techniques. Words are weapons, the book states, and in Lexicon they are more powerful than all the weapons in the world.

A young woman named Emily, a hustler living on the streets, is discovered by the group and is invited to join. Eventually she demonstrates a unique ability to speak these dangerous words, and her star begins to shine. But when she falls foul of the poets, she is enlisted to carry out a sinister plot that will change the world forever. Or can one man, who doesn’t remember his past, be the missing piece in stopping it all from happening.

The key to Lexicon is that despite the surreal circumstances, the characters are real, and talk and react to everything around them in the same mystified way we all would, but with a purpose rather than sheer stupification. Barry’s ability to portray the genuine fear and wonder while still keeping the story going at the pace it does is exceptional. So often a secret society/global conspiracy theory is bogged down by characters constantly asking, amongst burning rubble, “but why?”

“Clive, if we don’t act fast the president is going to be killed by spoons.”

“But why?”

“Daphne, if you don’t return the crystal, everybody’s pants will disappear.”

“But why?”

Barry answers all the questions a reader might pose with the deft hand of a truly gifted novelist, while maintaining the same confidence and playfulness a page-turner demands. The characters talk in real terms, using two words where five will do which I enjoyed. being a man who generally employs the opposite technique.

If you’ve read Steven Hall’s wordy thriller The Raw Shark Texts, then you’ve done your apprenticeship and you’re ready for the big leagues. Lexicon is a intelligent, raw thriller from one of Australia’s finest in the genre. Filled with action, suspense and with savage wit behind every exchange, if you truly believe words are weapons, then Lexicon is the user’s manual for you.

Click here to buy Lexicon from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

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Andrew Cattanach is a contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow Andrew on twitter at @andrew__cat

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About the Contributor

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

Follow Andrew: Twitter

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