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The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus

The Flame Alphabet (edition 2012)

by Ben Marcus

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4452523,513 (2.89)28
Title:The Flame Alphabet
Authors:Ben Marcus
Info:Knopf (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 304 pages

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The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus


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This is an interesting twist on post-apocalyptic fiction. Language, particularly speech, has become toxic, and only children are immune. There are some interesting metaphors about the power of language to cause pain, and some fairly profound ruminations on the human need for communication and the possibility of finding a substitute for language.

The discussions of religion were a little confusing to me. I am not confident that I grasped some of the symbolism (I kept thinking I should recognize the listener/Moses mouth as a familiar object, but I never did) and I'm not sure I really get the point of the orange cables or the multiple layers of transmissions or the fact that salt is apparently the residue of speech (is there something biblical there? I can't quite put my finger on it.) Still, I thought the writing was good and the premise was good. It was a bit of a downer, but what else can you expect of post-apocalyptic fiction? ( )
  BraveNewBks | Mar 10, 2016 |
Ben Marcus is obviously some kind of genius, but that doesn't mean reading The Flame Alphabet is a pleasant experience. I have about ten pages to go in the novel, but even if the last nine of those ten pages feature unicorns farting rainbows, I will still consider myself some kind of stalwart mofo for making it through all this alive.

Let me just say that the central concept, of language (and especially the language of children) becoming a virulent toxin* is the LEAST disturbing thing about the imagined world of The Flame Alphabet. In terms of emotional affect, my own gut reaction, that is, to the act of reading this book, I was reminded of J. G. Ballard's novel Crash. I love Ballard, but I was unable to finish Crash because I kinda got nauseated.

In addition, as some other reviewers have pointed out, the characters (if that's even what they are) here are deeply un-likable. I guess what I'm saying is that the novel is brilliant, but in order to read it you have to commit to something that will not be fun. "Enjoy" is not an applicable term, at least not in its usual sense.

* It made me think of William S. Burroughs' "language is a virus from outer space." ( )
  tungsten_peerts | Feb 1, 2016 |
The Story in The Flame Alphabet is not like any other I can remember having read. Adults are being taken seriously ill by children's speech, to the point where they have to escape from their own children. It is a dark tale, but told in a way that makes the improbable belieavable. We follow Sam and Claire, escaping, very much against their will, the terror of the their daughter Esther, or rather Esther's language. Ben Marcus has created a total world only barely recognizable, but still with remnants of our own. I found it difficult to feel very much for the characters at all, nor was I moved by the story. Still I had to read it to the end, fascinated by the turn of events and the desciptions of a wotld without words and of the true creativety of the story. ( )
  petterw | Jan 27, 2016 |
Amazing and gripping but very disturbing. Evocative of a nightmare state of mind the way, say, David Lynch's Eraserhead was. ( )
  ronhenry | Nov 17, 2015 |
Disturbing and thought-provoking ( )
  anitatally | Feb 3, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
With Marcus' knack for description, the environment is never lost on the reader. A vivid picture is painted on every gray, prison-like page. Unfortunately, the book also drowns in its own verbosity.
added by WeeklyAlibi | editWeekly Alibi, Adam Fox (Mar 22, 2012)
Marcus is a writer of prodigious talent, but “The Flame Alphabet” doesn’t fulfill its own promise as a hybrid of the traditional and experimental. At one point, Sam recalls the prayer hut: “Claire and I always got excited that we might hear a story instead of a sermon.” Readers with the same hope for this book may find it vexing; it’s a strange and impressive work, but in the end, it’s mostly sermon.
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To my family ‐ Heidi, Delia, and Solomon
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We left on a school day, so Esther wouldn't see us.
The secrecy surrounding the huts was justified. The true Jewish teaching is not for wide consumption, is not for groups, is not to be polluted by even a single gesture of communication. Spreading messages dilutes them. Even understanding them is a compromise. The language kills itself, expires inside its host. Language acts as an acid over its message. If you no longer care about an idea or feeling, then put it into language. That will certainly be the last of it, a fitting end. Language is another name for coffin. Bauman told us the only thing we should worry about regarding the sermons was if we understood them too well. When such a day came, then something was surely wrong.
My face felt so heavy I thought I could remove it, step on it until it composted.
Without language my inner life, if such a phrase indicates anything anymore, was merely anecdotal, hearsay.
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Marcus creates a chilling world where the speech of children is killing their parents. After being forced to leave their daughter Esther to fend for herself, Sam and Claire end up at a government lab intent on creating non-lethal speech. But when Sam discovers the truth about what's going on there, he realizes reuniting with his daughter is the only way to keep his sanity.… (more)

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