Sunday, June 05, 2016

Lingua franca

I wave to the crowd, focusing on an imaginary space where my family ought to be standing. In these situations, I have to remember that I'm not a child who's won a prize; I'm an unpopular man whose contribution to humanity has been to diminish its worth. It's difficult to gauge the nature of the crowd. It's not exactly a mob. There are too many neutrals for that. But certainly there is a minority who would probably wish death upon me.
Lingua Franca, by William Thacker, is a terrifically entertaining novel.

Miles Platting is that blight upon humanity, founder of a successful agency called Lingua Franca. It specializes in branding. So Miles is busy partnering towns around England with corporate sponsors. (Miles lives in Stella Artois.)

His (kind of ex-)wife, meanwhile, is a high-school English teacher, a profession Miles left behind. So they have some pretty heated discussions about the importance of language, debating whether a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And so on.

But one town's citizens don't take to being renamed after a frozen fish retailer. They stage a revolution the only way they can. They take back the language. Their ZipIt campaign promotes silence:
If you've ever visited the Sistine chapel, you'll know how much nicer it would be if everyone would shut the fuck up.
(I love that line, because it's true. I vividly recall the boom of the priest, Silencio!, failing to hush the multitudes.)

Language is this magical thing that's imbued with meaning and allows us to communicate. But it's also the source of miscommunication, and when misused can be meaningless. This novel is chock-full of linguistic theory, and takes sharp aim at marketing language and corporate practices.

This book brings to mind Tom McCarthy (Remainder and Satin Island) — about the same level of absurdity. Lingua Franca is more comic, a little less cerebral. It's clever, funny, fast, and fun.

I will definitely be watching for more from this author.

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