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The Flame Alphabet [Paperback]

Ben Marcus
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
Price: 6.29 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

2 May 2013
The speech of children has mutated into a virus which is killing their parents. At first it only affects Jews, then everyone. Sam and Claire's lives are threatened when their daughter, Esther, becomes lethal. Each word she speaks is toxic to Sam and Claire. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that adults across the country are growing increasingly alarmed. All around, 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. On fleeing, Sam finds himself in a government laboratory, where a group of 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 dissolving. Both morally engaged and wickedly entertaining, The Flame Alphabet asks the question: what is left of civilization when we lose the ability to communicate with those we love?

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Granta (2 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847086241
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847086242
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 56,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


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 legendary The Age of Wire and String. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, Believer, New York Times, and McSweeney's. He has received a Whiting Writers Award, a NEA Fellowship in fiction, and three Pushcart Prizes. He is an associate professor at Columbia University.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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. I also recommend Jayne Joso's Perfect Architect.
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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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5 of 9 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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0 of 1 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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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oppressive and self-indulgent 25 Sep 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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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Loved the premise but such a let down 15 Mar 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
Promising - but a let down - couldn't wait to finish - could have been brilliant but disappointing. Would not recommend
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