Lexicon by Max Barry
Penguin - June 18, 2013
At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren't taught history, geography, or mathematics--at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science .Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as "poets" adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.
Whip-smart orphan Emily Ruff is making a living running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization's recruiters. She is flown across the country for the school's strange and rigorous entrance exams, where, once admitted, she will be taught the fundamentals of persuasion by Bronte, Eliot, and Lowell--who have adopted the names of famous poets to conceal their true identities. For in the organization, nothing is more dangerous than revealing who you are: Poets must never expose their feelings lest they be manipulated. 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 Jamieson is brutally ambushed by two strange men in an airport bathroom. Although he has no recollection of anything they claim he's done, it turns out Wil is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets and is quickly caught in their increasingly deadly crossfire. Pursued relentlessly by people with powers he can barely comprehend and protected by the very man who first attacked him, Wil discovers that everything he thought he knew about his past was fiction. In order to survive, must journey to the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, to discover who he is and why an entire town was blown off the map.
As the two narratives converge, the shocking work of the poets is fully revealed, the body count rises, and the world crashes toward a Tower of Babel event which would leave all language meaningless. Max Barry's most spellbinding and ambitious novel yet, Lexicon is a brilliant thriller that explores language, power, identity, and our capacity to love--whatever the cost.
And the answer is no, I couldn't have shortened that anymore, so I'll write a short review. This was a good book.
Okay, not that short. I'm not a big fan of mystery/thriller/suspense books, but this one was fun. You had to focus a lot on it and keep looking back to make sure you knew what was going on, but it turned out to be great. The Emily story begins several years before the Wil one, if it takes you a while to figure that one out, by the way.
The one thing that I didn't like was that Kathleen Raine was made out to be working with Virginia Woolf at the beginning of the story, but it turns out that she has pretty much nothing to do with it. I think maybe an editor should've caught that.
And while this was a good book, it's not something I'm going to be recommending to people like crazy because it didn't feel like a "me" book. I certainly enjoyed it while it was happening, but it's not something that I would go crazy over if it was made into a movie (which is good, because I think it's pretty much unfilmable without giving away all the secrets).