books, Essays, Reading, Short Stories, Works in Translation

“Freeman’s The Future of New Writing”

unnamed-7Editor John Freeman has been making his mark in the publishing world with his relatively recent creation of the “Freeman’s” Journal. In this, the fourth, edition, Freeman has brought together twenty-nine writers to produce a compendium of essays, poems, and short stories from across the globe, writers whom he has selected because they represent the “future of new writing.”

An anthology this broad and diverse – including writers from Somalia, Iran, Mexico, China, Argentina, Japan, France, Brazil, Jamaica, Vietnam, Canada, Norway, U.K., and the U.S. – is a difficult work to summarize or even to critique. Freeman’s curatorial eye and his vision for anthologizing is impressive. There is no (obvious) common thread tying these works nor these writers together. Some pieces are lush, some are dark, some are full of wit and wonder. All are fresh and, as a collection, have an international feel and representation that fuels excitement about “The Future of New Writing.” Absolutely a great volume to treat as a sampler of great things to come.

books, Historical Fiction, Reading, Works in Translation

“The Seventh Function of Language” by Laurent Binet (translated by Sam Taylor)

“Bayard listens without understanding, rocked gently by the tone, which is simultaneously didactic and projected, melodious in its way, underpinned by a sense of rhythm, an extremely precise use of silences and punctuation.
          Does this guy earn more than he does?
          ‘Between this system of law that governs actions and relates to a subject of will, and consequently the indefinite repeatability of the error, and the outline of the salvation and perfection that concerns the subjects, which implies a temporal scansion and an irreversibility, there is, I think, no possible integration . . . ‘
          Yes, without a doubt. Bayard is unable to suppress the bitterness that instinctively makes him detest this voice. The police have to battle people like this for taxpayers’ funds. They’re functionaries, like him, except that he deserves to be remunerated by society for his work.”

Have you ever read a mystery novel that covers the basics of linguistics and semiotic IMG_0796theory while featuring France’s intellectual elite of the 1980s? Yeah, me neither . . .until now. French writer Laurent Binet’s newest novel is nerd paradise, an academician’s dream. Or is it? Binet has constructed a crime mystery story around the death of Roland Barthes, one of the world’s foremost linguists, and his contemporaries; Derrida, Foucault, and Eco feature prominently among this cut-throat crowd of intellectuals.

“The Seventh Function of Language” is, surprisingly, fun, though it is certainly easy to get mired by the deep dives into theory and rhetoric. Binet is doubtless poking fun at intellectuals while ostensibly speaking their language. I am no erudite scholar, and so my world view takes no offense, but I wonder how academicians would receive their heroes’ portrayal as often childish gluttons. To me, the irreverence was mostly charming.

“The Seventh Function of Language” feels like the spawn of Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” and Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code”, only it lacks the complexity and credentials of Eco and the dumbed-down mass appeal of Brown. Somewhere in between these two immensely successful works, Binet’s novel is readable, entertaining, and likely to have a much more limited audience and lifespan. With often lengthy (and likely oversimplified) explanations of theory and prolific name dropping of intellectuals you have heard of but likely haven’t studied at any great depth, “The Seventh Function of Language” scratches the itch for a smart mystery, letting its readers feel clever and learned while not actually requiring them to be so.

Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing a complimentary Advance Reader’s Copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.