On a recent trip to my local library, I took out four books and two DVDs (The Phantom of The Opera and the Sound of Music – if you must know. I was feeling musical.) ‘The Word Exchange’ by Alena Graedon was one of these books.
I expected the book to be dystopian and preachy. When did the two become mutually exclusive? When dystopian novels are churned out regularly in the hopes that they will have some moral substance as well as enough commercial appeal to be stretched out into six films.
I admit that I was a quite a follower when it came to book trends in my teens. I was obsessed with the Twilight series and used to quote the book during break at school. My friends could pick up the references because they were just as far gone. I devoured the Hunger Games series, lending it from a friend, when it was taken out from all the libraries.
Thankfully, published in 2014, ‘The Word Exchange’, is slightly less juvenile with a twenty-seven year old protagonist, Anana. The book constructs an elaborate futuristic world, that is not as far fetched as it may have been, say three decades ago. Cell phones, e-mails are outdated and the current technology are called ‘memes’. I know what you’re thinking…. words can have different meanings, okay? And that, dear friends, is kind of the point of the book.
The Word Exchange at the crux of the title is an app, like a thesaurus. If you can’t recall a word or its meaning, the word exchange churns it out for you. The Meme, on the other hand, is a lot like an Android. It contains all of your information via a microchip implanted in your brain. The introduction of a new version of the Meme called the ‘Nautilus’ is the match that lights the flame of word flu. It’s always the upgrades that cause the trouble. That’s why I select ‘Not now’, when my phone spams me about upgrades that need to be completed. The Nautilus connects with you on a cellular level via a coil attached to your forehead.
Our second narrator is Bart. Anana is his colleague as well as unrequited love. Initially quite Mr. Wordy McWordsmith, we realise how devastating word flu is when SPOILER ALERT he is infected by it. The addition of unintelligible words to his narration drives that point further home.
Predictably, the book makes us reflect on our dependence on technology for communication as well as knowledge. How many times have you abandoned a conversation to ‘look something up’ or left your phone at home only to stumble through the day self-consciously, as though naked?
The book also made me question my own knowledge and capabilities…How much do I really know for sure? Often we don’t memorise things because we assume the information will always be readily available. It makes us vulnerable to forgery and a host of other things.
Instead of being numbered or titled, each chapter begins with a dictionary entry; the first of which is: Alice: n. A girl transformed by reflection (3). One of my favourite dictionary entries/chapters was: ‘F for Father n. Something sought but not often found.’ The protagonist has a seemingly good relationship with her father – she even works as his PA. Yet, the events surrounding her father’s disappearance shed doubt on whether she really knew him at all.
The book did characterisation really well. For instance, Anana’s ex boyfriend, Max, is painted as once chauvinistic Prince Charming, opportunistic as well as shrivelling megalomaniac. Yet, I didn’t feel like the book is entirely disapproving of him. In fact, he became a bit of a sympathetic character towards the end. It points towards how blind we are to the flaws of the people we love.
As one can expect from a book about words and language, the text is very verbose. It reminded me of Twilight in that regard. An oversight I noticed, was the narrator stating that ‘Aleph’ is the beginning of the Hebrew alphabet but neglecting to mention that it is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet as well. This seemed strange for a book obviously so well-researched.
In conclusion, The Word Exchange lists reading as one of the ways to reverse damage inflicted by word flu. Go ahead, and browse through my blog and read. Reverse word flu now!