is a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel about a totalitarian state that controls the population by "slates" --chips inserted into the neck that monitor the spoken word.
The most interesting element in this novel is the concept that the government has a Red List
of words that cannot be spoken without dire consequences. Many words are so completely unknown by the general populace that only those who have survived the pandemic and remember the "beforetime" have any knowledge of them. However, since the government continues to add words to the list, even the younger population remains in danger of speaking forbidden words, deliberately or inadvertently.
What fascinates me about the concept is the fact that the brain allocates space according to the most sensitive parts of the body in understanding and discovering the world. As a result-- the illustration of the motor/sensory homunculus
, the little man in the brain.
Where is most of our sensory information stored? In our face
. Notice the size of the lips in this version. Another version in one of my books shows the tongue
as large as the lips.
Images of the homunculus (and most books about the brain include versions of this little man in the brain) demonstrate the importance of these motor/sensory elements to our survival.
Consider what would happen to the brain if language were to be severely limited. The old "use it or lose it" maxim applies to the brain as well. Orwell introduced the "thought police"; Bynum envisions word or language policing. Without language
, how do we form ideas and thought
? By gradually reducing the number of words in our language, complex thought would also be gradually limited.
What would the end result be? Silence? How would the homunculus illustration appear if the tongue and lips were used only for eating and tasting? Would that area of the brain shrink accordingly?
So...what I really liked about this novel is the way it connected to my "brain books." The idea of gradually limiting language fascinates me.
Not only thought, but in many ways, our humanity is facilitated, encouraged, and perpetuated by language. The removal of words from the spoken language, the destruction of all written literature, the lack of writing materials (other than a stylus and computerized notepad that can be monitored and are used by only government offficials) further hamper mental and emotional development. In this monitored society there is no music, no literature, no art. These creative endeavors have been destroyed, and few remember even the idea of them.
What about the rest of the book? The author did manage to keep me in suspense, but the narrative itself didn't quite fulfill the potential of the novel's concept.
Plot: Harper Adams, a sentient and monitor for the state, has always resented the government's control and after a traumatic event, is recruited by the Resistance. She prepares for her break and becomes a successful runner
. For some aspects of the novel, it was a little difficult to suspend disbelief, but Bynum does keep the suspense going. Certain areas lacked sufficient development and explanation, keeping things moving without appropriate depth.
Sometimes writing a review without spoilers is more difficult than others, so I think I'll leave it there.
Overall, I liked the novel a great deal because it connected to areas that interest me and made me think. I also liked the respect shown to The Book of Noah
, which as the last extant copy, is revered and treasured by the Resistance, feared and reviled by the State. The value of this forbidden volume has a nice twist, and even rumors of the book present a problem for the government.
Despite the failings in the plot, this novel will remain with me.
Fiction. Science Fiction/Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic. 2010. 384 pages.