Review of ‘Lexicon’ by Max Barry

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Lexicon by Max Barry is a disappointing novel.

Max Barry builds on an interesting premise but fails to create a convincing dystopian landscape. The novel is about an organization of “poets”, master manipulators who use words to warp others to their will. The members of the organization are given the names of famous writers such as Bronte, Eliot; to conceal their true identities. According to the novel, a person’s personality can be classified into one of 228 psychographic categories, depending on which they could be compromised or controlled by using category-specific words. The conflict emerges when a deadly word is unleashed, a word whose power is fatal to humanity. The novel begins on a promising note but ends with the “love solves everything” cliché. And even the love that suddenly blossoms between Emily and Harry seems contrived. I wouldn’t call this a hardcore science fiction novel compared to novels like The Martian by Andy Weir and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I wish that author had included more details about the organization, the psychographic segments, and the intricacies of what they learn and do.

Moving onto the characters, none of the characters are memorable:

Emily Ruff is not a likeable. Sure, she makes mistakes which is normal; but what I despise is her predatory behaviour, this coming from someone who was victimized herself is alarming.

Harry Wilson/Wil Parke is an interesting character, who initially appears to be baffled but later rises to the catastrophic event that was unfolding. His understanding of the organization and the “Poets” grows leaps and bounds once he gets into a conversation with Eliot. The sudden onset of this understanding is not believable.

Eliot, Emily Ruff’s mentor, is yet another cold and unfeeling poet who finally reveals his ability to emote. (SPOILER ALERT: His death beyond the obvious sacrificial role appears to be more pathetic than tragic.)

What is most intriguing about this novel is its examination of privacy issues which is an integral part of our life today. Max Barry made me think of the real intent of the numerous surveys and the polls one comes across on a daily basis and the dangers of revealing too much about oneself.

Lexicon’ is essentially a novel about the powers of persuasion and sadly nothing could persuade me to give it a favourable review.

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Diary Entry Of An Amateur Pessimist

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Another year is about to dawn and I don’t know what I am supposed to feel, hopeful? Optimistic?

I don’t think I can get myself to feel hopeful about the future if everybody  is only going to grow old and die. It is rather childish, me wallowing about the inevitable. Growing up means shouldering responsibilities, seeing the world stripped off its glitter and glamour, and plodding on even when others fade and disappear from your life. The necessity of moving on eludes me, the future looms like a frightening storm, I can spot flashes of lightning revealing the purple blackness of the clouds. I sit shivering as I look at the approaching storm, I want to flee, find shelter from the storm, but I realize that there is no escape. I have to brave the storm, let the rain lash me mercilessly. I am not in control, I never was.

Freak Show

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I was bad luck to me and everybody else around. Nobody looked me in the eyes; they were afraid of the doom I might bring to them.

“Your presence upsets me, I hate you ”, she said. All the girls in the hostel sided with her once again, their faces grim.

I turned nonchalant, her words didn’t affect me. I was always shunned. I was beyond feeling sorry for myself.

An hour later I stared at the glassy eyes of the girls I slaughtered, mesmerized; now I was truly alone. It was just me and my bad luck.

 

Review of ‘The Outsider’ by Albert Camus

 

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‘The Outsider’ written by Albert Camus and translated by Joseph Laredo, is a novel that centers around a Frenchman named Meursault, who expresses no sadness at his mother’s death. Days after his mother’s death he murders a man on a whim for which he is tried in court. Meursault is tried not just for his crime but his lack of emotions, which makes him an outsider.

Meursault, the protagonist is peculiar as he attaches no value to human relationships and commits murder for no apparent reason. Sentiments like love, empathy, and concern are insignificant to him. The only time Meursault is close to being emotional is when he is imprisoned and he realizes the value of his freedom. During the initial days of his sentence he tries to devise plans that will enable him to escape from being guillotined. But right before the day of his execution, he accepts death in all its finality. He lives his life following his mother’s ideal that humanity can get used to anything, be it death or punishment. His indifferent reaction to his mother’s death is startling to the people around him, the same sort of people who would prefer deceit to truth. Meursault is not a likeable character, but then I don’t think the author intended the character to be a likeable one. Mersaults’ s defiant manner of sticking to the truth, his staunch atheism, his unwillingness to sugar-coat realities and his ability to accept his wrongs and not feel guilty about them makes him an outsider. He is an outcast as he doesn’t adhere to social norms. But it is these qualities that make him an unconventional tragic hero. Anybody who lives or behaves in a way contrary to the age-old way is shunned. To the world he is a cold-hearted murderer and according to the author himself he is just a person who doesn’t belong. A strange man who lives his life just to feel alive and nothing more. He lives through his life saying and doing things that feel right to him alone and not to the society.

Marie, the mistress of Mersault, is the only female character that has any importance in the novel, she is reduced to a pretty thing people can point at and admire. She is a woman who doesn’t seem to have any opinions of her own. Like Mersault she too is strange as she desires to marry a man who doesn’t love her but only considers her as an object to gratify his sexual desires.

Almost all the characters in the novel are idiosyncratic starting from Meursault to Salamano. Camus gives us a strange piece of fiction along the lines of absurdism which is a philosophy based on the belief that human existence is purposeless and chaotic. To Camus Meursault was a new-age Christ, a person who sacrifices himself for the truth, the kind of truth people try not to see or acknowledge.

The Outsider is as Camus states “the story of a man who, without any heroic pretensions agrees, to die for the truth.” This book left me confused but it also made me seriously ponder about the rigid, inflexible, and most often prejudiced decisions of the common public, and whether these decisions are really fair. This novel progresses like a dream, hazy but fast-paced and finally leaving you with mixed feelings.

 

 

 

Posterity

 

82-year-old Pappan Nair stared at the ceiling fan weakly. The fan black with dust let out a mechanical screech every now and then. Death lingered by him, he could feel its cold breath in the air. He felt his body tremble underneath the Kashmiri blanket his son-in-law had gifted him last Vishu*. He could faintly hear the buzz of people talking in the veranda. It was as if everybody were waiting him to die. He knew that his relatives weren’t there for his property, he had divided his life’s wealth long ago among his three daughters.

Pappan Nair had been the headmaster of the public school of the village for 33 years; a man dedicated to raising the standards of education in his unprogressive village. A steady stream of people came to see him and to look at him with sympathy. He felt as if he were an object on display, somebody you can point and talk about. His house was filled with people, their presence puzzled him.

“Why are they staying?” he asked himself.

“Amma, some news people have come. It seems they want grandpa to appear on TV!

I didn’t know he was famous”, exclaimed 6-year-old Sanoop to his mother.

“Tell your dad that they have come”, said Rukmini, the eldest daughter of the headmaster.

Rukmini was aware of her husband’s plan, this feature on her father was an excuse to publicize her husband’ s business venture. A way to lure in more people. She smiled to herself, pleased that her husband would always try to get the best out of any situation.

That night she found Sanoop staring gleefully at something on her mobile phone.

“What are you doing with that? Give it to me”, she gestured.

“Amma, look at this. I took a selfie with grandpa when he was sleeping. Now I can show my friends that this is how a dying man looks like.”

Rukmini stared at her son in silent horror.

 

 

 

*Vishu is the Hindu New Year festival celebrated in Kerala, India.