"Establishes Laurent Binet as the clear heir to the late Umberto Eco, writing novels that are both brilliant and playful, dense with ideas while never losing sight of their need to entertain... One of the funniest, most riotously inventive and enjoyable novels you’ll read this year" (Alex Preston Observer) "A hugely entertaining novel, taking delight in its own twists and turns" (Nicholas Lezard Spectator) "Lively, earthy, experimental, ambitious, clever and endlessly entertaining… Smart, witty, direct, cool" (Hal Jensen The Times Literary Supplement) "The premise is a stroke of genius. Roland Barthes did not die following an accident in 1980; he was murdered… The strands of the plot are skilfully interwoven through a dual process of fictionalisation of the real and realisation of the fictional" (Andrew Gallix Financial Times) "An almost filmic detective romp, taking in glamorous international locations, killer dogs, Bulgarian secret agents, several varieties of sex and wild car chases" (Andrew Hussey Literary Review). Laurent Binet lives and works in France. His first novel, HHhH, was an international bestseller which won the prestigious Prix Goncourt du premier roman, among other prizes.. Roland Barthes, one of the twentieth-century’s towering literary figures, is knocked down in a Paris street by a laundry van. It’s February 1980 and he has just come from lunch with Francois Mitterrand, who is locked in a battle for the Presidency. Barthes dies soon afterwards. History tells us it was an accident. But what if it were an assassination? What if Barthes was carrying a document of unbelievable, global importance? That document was the key to the seventh function of language – an idea so powerful it gives whoever masters it the ability to convince anyone, in any situation, to do anything. Police Captain Jacques Bayard and his reluctant accomplice Simon Herzog set off on a global chase that takes them from the corridors of power and academia to backstreet saunas and midnight rendezvous. What they discover is a global conspiracy involving the President, murderous Bulgarians and a secret international debating society. In the world of intellectuals and politicians, everyone is a suspect. And who can you trust when the idea of truth itself is at stake?
Funny and accessible detective story about French intellectuals...! As some other readers have pointed out, it probably does help to have some idea about the minor characters and their work, but you don't certainly don't need to be an expert in semiotics or 20th-century French philosophy; you can always Google the people if you want to know more.... It's laugh-out-loud funny in some places, and Binet's skewering of some high-profile French (and American) intellectuals is very entertaining. But ultimately, this is a smart detective story that wryly pokes fun at an intellectually insular world for comic effect - and it works. Not convinced by some of the translation though, which seemed to be doing a very literal job in some places, thereby losing the meaning of the original text.
Great fun, but not for everyone! I thoroughly enjoyed this book - but it's not for everyone. Who, then, is it for? I'd say the target reader needs to have a love of language, and a dislike of pretentiousness. It helps enormously if you have a knowledge of France, and especially of some of the better-known intellectuals of the 20th century. It also helps if you have some knowledge of 'low culture' - some of the book reads like a Dan Brown pastiche/parody, and some characters are reminiscent of individuals portrayed in the Tintin series (I may be wrong about the author's intentions, but that's how it struck me.) So - what's it about? You really can't summarise this book, but it has elements of mystery and thriller. Was a famous intellectual murdered - and if so, who did it, and why? There is a McGuffin - in Hitchcock's word - which is the 'seventh element of language'. I'll say no more on that to avoid spoilers. The main intention of the book is two-fold, it appears - to give the reader a bit of an introduction to linguistic theory (new to me - often interesting but at times too long winded, hence the 4* not 5* rating) - but also to entertain by mercilessly parodying some of the more pretentious intellectuals who are well known public figures in France. So, to 'get' the humour, you often - but not always - need a handle on who these people are. At the same time, you get the thriller 'Dan Brown' element, but not taken too seriously. Given the (at least) two strands, the book is not perfect from a structural POV, but it's more a thought provoking book than a 'story', so that should not matter too much. I guess it would be perfectly possible to skip the passages on theory and just read that, though - it could still entertain quite a few readers!
I like fiction where the story is woven around real events ... I purchased based on the review in the London Review of Books. I like fiction where the story is woven around real events and characters. As a non english major I found some of the linguistic references quite difficult to follow and was unsure at times whether the academics were fictitious or real - I personally would benefit from a chapter on who was who, or for an appendix - similar to the optional chapter in Les Miserables. I found myself referring back to the LRB article and/or Google for further information. I was sufficiently impressed that on completion I purchased his previous work HHhH which I would thoroughly recommend.
A very funny book. I have no time for the PoMos whatsoever so it was great to see them debunked in such an effortless way. the first hundred pages or so had me laughing out loud but it didn't quite hold its momentum or not for me. Not wholly original, Michael Dibdin has done similar and perhaps better but still very good read .Highly recommended.
Modern masterpiece So refreshing to see a writer with such verve and intelligence -to slip seamlessly between philosophical enquiry and politics, laced with a lacerating wit ,is no mean feat but it’s so beautifully done here-warmly recommended
Smart and funny A very funny read for anyone familiar with literary theory and its characters; provides some nice little explanations of theories as well, and a good sense of the playful intellectual atmosphere of an era unfortunately missed by millennials focused with deadly seriousness on changing the world and saving the planet.
A complex literary and philosophical game basking in a detective investigation. This book is a multi-layered exposition of all that is pretentious in literary and language studies. It is playful and complex, and hugely enjoyable, but clearly not for everybody. Even those with extensive knowledge of French authors, philosophers and language pundits may well find this book confusing and exasperating, but with patience and inexhaustible good will, the book will reward the reader enormously.
Terrific! A really good read Immensely clever, amusing and a real page turner. A real revenge on all those 'intellectuals' I had the misfortune to read back in the 1970's and '80. But Binet does not throw out the baby with the bath water. It's also written with real affection for some of the giants of that time
Rarified Taste Required Sophisticated fun for those who know their post-war French intellectual history.
Complex I'm going to have to read this more than once.
Rating : 3.9 of 326 Reviewers