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2.9 out of 5 stars15
2.9 out of 5 stars
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on 9 August 2014
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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on 16 June 2012
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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on 26 September 2014
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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on 25 April 2016
I had no idea what to expect for this one as I was passed an ARC copy by a friend to read. To be perfectly honest I've finished it and I'm still not sure what to think.

The basic premise is simple - language becomes toxic and only the young are immune. The main protagonist is married with a teenage daughter, and the focus is on his struggle to survive and look after his family. He and his wife are also "forest Jews" - worshipping in a hidden hut in the forest, by themselves, listening to supposed broadcasts from some unknown location using somewhat vaguely described equipment.

The concept is good, the prose is excellent (though perhaps a little OTT at times). I did find it strangely compelling, though where it falls down is that I failed to find a coherent storyline, or at least one that - written simply - would keep the reader enthralled. I didn't understand why the forest jew angle was supposedly important (there is mention of the "disease" originating with this group of people, but not much beyond that). In the end I was just a bit confused about the motivations of some of the characters, and the relevance of the religious angle.
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on 8 January 2014
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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on 10 November 2013
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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on 27 July 2013
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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on 25 March 2016
great read, thanks
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on 25 September 2013
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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on 6 February 2014
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 from your children?
Wow. Did that sound intriguing. Also, the book was getting a good buzz and ending up on many year's best lists.
Hey - this should have been a slam dunk, really.
And yet.
It's kind of not quite good, really. It's, like, should-have-been-great-but-it-doesn't-even-come-close.
Always a slow read, muddled, brooding, bleak. Creepy humour is what you get.
At times it could be Stephen King-size scary, but it's clearly not what the author's interested in.
You get glimpses of places, wiring, fluids, sheer strangeness. All the contraptions, nome of the clicks.
It figures. cheap thrills not what he's after: Ben Marcus, a talented young writer of the Dave Eggers breed, is obviously headed for high literary ground here.
But even in this department.
You wish you could say it's Kafka meets Vonnegut, but you just can't.
It just doesn't happen.
Vagueness breeds relevance, they say. But this novel, while certainly intriguing and full of promise and occasionally brilliant in conjuring the paranoia and desperation of a pandemic outbreak, is so relentlessly vague it never quite gels into a convincing whole.
It got boring halfway through, with undue attention to some experimental proceedings that make for a very artificial heart of the narration. You kind of lose interest at some point. Or me, at least.
Ultimately, The Flaming Alphabet lacks some fire to it.
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