Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

 

 

Title: The Word Exchange

Author: Alena Graedon

Published: Hachette Au April 2014

Status: Read from April 13 to 15, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“The end of words would mean the end of memory and thought. In other words, our past and future.”

In Alena Graedon’s alternate history literary thriller, The Word Exchange, the printed word has all but disappeared in less than four short years. Set in New York in 2016,Just weeks before the publication of the third and final printed North American Dictionary of the English Language(NADEL), its curator, Doug disappears leaving behind a cryptic message for his daughter, Anana. Concerned and confused, Anana, with the support of a colleague, Bart, begins to search for her father, and stumbles upon a shocking conspiracy that threatens to destroy the very foundation of civilisation – language.

The population in The Word Exchange depends on ‘super’smart personal devices, known as Memes, for almost every want and need and to perpetuate that reliance, the company, Synchronic, responsible for the devices has recognised and exploited the profitability in owning not only the means of communication, (ie the Memes) but also language itself through the Word Exchange. Synchronic does this by essentially forcing the development of a new language, but one without any rules or context, thus forcing users to consult (and pay) the Exchange in order to communicate. Only a handful of people, including Anana’s father, Doug, object, and predict disaster but it is too late when meme users begin to develop ‘Word Flu’, essentially aphasia (the loss and the comprehension and formulation of language) that leads to more serious individual and societal complications.

The Word Exchange is, in part, a cautionary tale about society’s increasing reliance on digital communication and information, and its possible impact on language when paired with corporate greed. If you are appalled when the Oxford Dictionary updates with words like ‘vacay’ and ‘phablet’ and insist on spelling every word in full when you send a text message, The Word Exchange will leave you feeling horrified, yet vindicated.

I think The Word Exchange is both an ambitious, complex, and clever novel and a frustrating, vexatious, and pretentious read. The concept, while not unique, is intriguing and creative but for me the execution was largely alienating. The pace is almost glacial til halfway through and littered with incomplete info dumps, Anana is a weak and annoying heroine who uses disruptive footnotes in her ‘journal’, and the prose is wildly overwritten, even allowing for intentional irony.
But for all that there are moments of brilliance in the narrative, like when, for example, we begin to understand and relate to Graedon’s premise as Bart’s aphasia progresses and made up words proliferate, stripping his journal writing of context and meaning.

I am, in all honesty, torn. The Word Exchange is simultaneously too much, and not enough, an intelligent story but somehow lacking in common sense. If you are curious, I do think it is worth the attempt, but I wouldn’t judge anyone who gives up on it.

The Word Exchange is available to purchase from

Hachette I boomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Amazon AU I Amazon US I BookDepository

  via Booko

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laurie C
    Apr 16, 2014 @ 21:07:36

    When I hear a book is about words, I’m always drawn to it. I don’t know whether to go for this one or not!

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  2. Trackback: Dystopia – Society that is Undesirable or Frightening | BLOGSUNNYSIDE
  3. Lisa
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 04:32:08

    I’d thought the premise sounded intriguing — but after reading your review, I’m less inclined to give it a try. Pretentious and alienating are not good signs!

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  4. laurelrainsnow
    Apr 21, 2014 @ 12:59:42

    I think reading this one might just make me furious. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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