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The Flame Alphabet [Kindle Edition]

Ben Marcus
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £8.99
Kindle Price: £6.02 includes VAT* & free wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet
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Book Description

The speech of children has mutated into a virus which is killing their parents. At first it only affects Jews-then everyone. Living quietly in the suburbs, Sam and Claire's lives are threatened when their daughter, Esther, is infected with the disease. Each word she speaks - whether cruel or kind, banal or loving - is toxic to Sam and Claire. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that people across the country are growing increasingly alarmed. But all Sam needs to do is look around the neighborhood: in the park, parents wither beneath the powerful screams of their children. Claire is already stricken and near death.

As the contagion spreads, Sam and Claire must leave Esther behind in order to survive. The government enforces quarantine zones, and return to their daughter becomes impossible. Having left his family and escaped from the afflicted cities, Sam finds himself in a government laboratory, where a group of hardened scientists are conducting horrific tests, hoping to create non-lethal speech. What follows is a nightmarish vision of a world which is both completely alien and frighteningly familiar, as Sam presses on alone into a society whose boundaries are fragmenting.

Both morally engaged and wickedly entertaining, The Flame Alphabet begs the question: what is left of civilization when we lose the ability to communicate with those we love?

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A measure of the book's success is that it enforces not just a suspension of disbelief, but for a while total surrender of the faculty of reason ... The drama of parental obsolescence is sharply articulated, as is the condition of terrorised parental love --Guardian

An unforgettable experience. This is, quite simply, one of the most powerful works of fiction it has ever been my privilege to read ...
As I approached the final pages I felt tearful, nauseous, shivery, exhausted, terrified and short of breath ... It is a novel which has profound things to say about matters metaphysical but does so in a way that creates a physiological response ... The Flame Alphabet is a revelation and a castigation ... literature that makes sense of our age and will be read in ages to come --Scotsman

Ben Marcus s new novel is an eye-burning high-literary encounter with science fiction ... The Flame Alphabet is abuzz throughout with the kind of scorching prose that we d expect from such bona fide American literature hot stuff --Dazed & Confused

Larded with creepy metaphors, the author's own wayward language destabilises the reader s sense of linguistic propriety. --Independent

The most unsettling novel of the year. Hitherto known as an experimental writer - The Age of the Wire and String fascinated, delighted and baffled me in 1995 - his orbit has gradually been approaching Earth over the past 18 years, but he's still out there. Horribly vivid... It looks from a distance like a sci-fi dystopia but is, in fact, far more interesting than that. --'Best Paperbacks of 2013', Guardian

The Flame Alphabet gets into your head and under your skin and stays there. --'Books of the Year' chosen by Josh Cohen, The Big Issue

About the Author

Ben Marcus is the author of three previous books; Notable American Women, The Father Costume, and The Age of Wire and String. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Believer, The New York Times, and McSweeney's. He has received a Whiting Writers Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in fiction, a grant for Innovative Literature from the Creative Capital Foundation and three Pushcart Prizes. He is an associate professor at Columbia University.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 493 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 030737937X
  • Publisher: Granta Books (5 Jan. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006DGX5ZC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #207,884 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dangerous unless read through a filter 9 Aug. 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Well it wasn't what I was expecting.
I thought it was going to be an easy, pulpy sci-fi, dystopian, post apocalyptic novel. Perhaps with a peppering of philosophy about the use of language.
Oh, boy. This is not that.
I was constantly amazed by Marcus's inventive cleverness. I have never read anything like this, and I'm not sure if I've ever been quite as affected by a book as much as this.
Normally, if a book gets its hooks into me, I end up constantly thinking about the characters. Or, to a lesser extent, the world or the central theme. This was like plugging a raw emotion into my mind. Unfortunately, the emotion was akin to disgust or perhaps despair, so this will never be my favourite book.
But as a work of fiction, it is incredible.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "but words will never hurt me...." 8 Jan. 2014
By jw1951
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Yes they will! In this dystopic future words spoken by children (and later, it seems, by everyone, even written ones...) induce devastating illness in those who hear or see them, although the children are immune up until a certain age. This is the main thread of this (very strange, but interesting) novel, but there are others too. One is that of "forest Jews", of whom the narrator is one, who worship in tiny home made synagogues, using a Cronenbergesque living device as a conduit for the words of distant rabbis. Strange idea, or what? Marcus doesn't lack them, as his "Age of Wire and String" novel (?) illustrates. The present book is much more conventional, and even has a plot, as adults struggle to find some way of avoiding language-based extinction, which they do partly by carrying out gruesome Mengele-like experiments. You've got the idea that this isn't a feelgood book, but it's consistently interesting, and full of very odd notions, most extremely creepy. The book makes most of the recent "new weird" look like Enid Blyton, so if you're interested in new and strange things, read it. Marcus is obviously a strange talent who ploughs his own furrow remorselessly.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK - but more spark than flame 16 Jun. 2012
By Verve
I like this writer, I like him a lot - so if you are also a fan you will find something in this - but if you are coming to Ben for the first time I recommend you to read his Notable American Women: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries Original) first - which offers far more and which sets out this guys stall in a way that will allow you to go with Flame here without giving up on him. This novel does however contain something of this guy's colossal literary talent and intelligence, and even something of his wit - and the premise of the first half sucks you in so hard and is so finely crafted it exaggerates the silent hiss of the somewhat disappointing second half. What to do? Give it a read, certainly worth it for the ideas alone - but I would check out his earlier work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A bleak but satisfying read! 26 Sept. 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
From the literary perspective I think this practically a flawless novel. Taut, often poetic prose constructs a haunting and menacing landscape, deeply sad family relationships, and descriptions of the bizarre utensils which are a big part of the story.
Without giving too much away, the plot concerns a virus that’s sweeping society which is caused by language. Only the children are immune, and their ordinary speech can inflict horrible reactions in adults.
I’m not a fan of the science fiction genre, and this is not the sort of book that I would normally read, but I was recommended it by someone whose judgement I trust and I was glad I did. It is an imaginative and original novel despite the bleak subject matter, and I was interested enough to see it through to the end. Communication, philosophy of language, identity, deceit, family bonds and religious dogmatism are all subject which are explored in the text.
I had to give it five stars. It is a very impressive piece of writing and I intend to explore more of his work. If you like experimental challenging writing then I recommend this - but it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s a nightmarish story told urgently, and it’s relentlessly odd. There’s barely a chink of light shining through the impenetrable queasy cloud he creates.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars groundbreaking 10 Nov. 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
this is one of the most fantastic books I have ever read
It challenges the nature of language and relationship and the fundamentals of life
the prose is fantastic
it wouldn't appeal to many people but if you want to be challenged read this
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
Good basic premise spoilt by pretentious writing style and incoherent plot. Also studded with those gratuitous bits of bubblegum philosophy that many contemporary authors throw in presumably to fool a casual reader into assuming the book is deeper and more literary than the usual offerings in the genre. Looking at the quotes on the front & back of the cover I can only assume this is a case of the emperor's new clothes. That's 3 hours of my life I'll not get back. That said it did have a kernel of something that held my attention because I did actually manage to finish it.
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5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oppressive and self-indulgent 25 Sept. 2013
By annie
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Bought this as a book club book. The idea of word being able to kill was interesting as we know this is true. Aim, fire - forces, go kill yourself -online trolling, I'm sorry there is nothing we can do for you etc, are examples of this. However this book is an insult to the real ways words can kill. The first chapter sets the scene with page after page of repetitive description of misery. It then goes downhill and I kept thinking this is written by someone with severe depression who probably has teenage children. I get the symbolism of the dreadful concentration camps and the effects of killer diseases such as Aids. However I think there are better ways of discussing such events. I don't want to read about the torture of children and found the ending obscene. I cannot find anything good to say about this book and took great pleasure in just being able to press the book on my Kindle to get rid of it forever.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars might have been as great as its cover. and yet
It looked great, the brilliant cover, and the idea at the heart of this book sounded even better.
Language as an infectious disease, a vicious condition verbally transmitted... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Hated it!
I found this an unpleaseant book, did not like the strory and stopped reading at page 85. Only the second book in my life I have stopped reading and not read until the bitter end. Read more
Published on 28 Sept. 2013 by minishopaholic
5.0 out of 5 stars poetry concealed in a prose format with a compelling plot. Outstanding
I am amazed by the talent of this man and am humbled by it. I am equally amazed that some rednecks here have the chutzpah to dismiss this work. Read more
Published on 16 May 2013 by Queen Bee
2.0 out of 5 stars Loved the premise but such a let down
Promising - but a let down - couldn't wait to finish - could have been brilliant but disappointing. Would not recommend
Published on 15 Mar. 2013 by Peter Nunn
2.0 out of 5 stars World record for the most four letter words in one book
Why the gratuitous overuse of f***ing in the most inappropriate places? Why the lurid description of his neighbour's toilet habits? Read more
Published on 12 July 2012 by M. D. Holley
1.0 out of 5 stars Avant-garde sci-fi that will repel both camps
Experimental writer (The Age of Wire and String, ** but showed promise) essays genre with repellent results (this reader gave up at page 80) though not as repellent as the... Read more
Published on 30 Jun. 2012 by Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso'
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