The Flame Alphabet Paperback – 2 May 2013
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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 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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Top customer reviews
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.
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.
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.
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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