The Flame Alphabet

Ben Marcus

Published: 7 June 2012
Hardback, Royal HB
156x234mm, 304 pages
ISBN: 9781847086228
£16.99

Other Editions

Paperback

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Published: 2 May 2013
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 304 pages
ISBN: 9781847086242
£8.99

Ebook Available

Overview

The speech of children has mutated into a virus which is killing their parents. At first it only affects Jews, then everyone. Sam and Claire's lives are threatened when their daughter, Esther, is infected with the disease. Each word she speaks is toxic to Sam and Claire. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that people across the country are growing increasingly alarmed. But all Sam needs to do is look around the neighborhood: in the park, parents wither beneath the powerful screams of their children. Claire is already stricken and near death. As the contagion spreads, Sam and Claire must leave Esther behind in order to survive. The government enforces quarantine zones, and return to their daughter becomes impossible. Sam finds himself in a government laboratory, where a group of scientists are conducting horrific tests, hoping to create non-lethal speech.

Both morally engaged and wickedly entertaining, The Flame Alphabet begs the question: what is left of civilization when we lose the ability to communicate with those we love?


About the author

Image of Ben Marcus

Ben Marcus is the author of three books of fiction, Notable American Women, The Father Costume, and The Age of Wire and String. His new novel, The Flame Alphabet, will be published by Granta in 2012. His stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in Harper's, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Believer, The New York Times, Salon, McSweeney's, and Tin House. He is the editor of The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories. Marcus is a 2009 recipient of a grant for Innovative Literature from the Creative Capital Foundation. He has also received a Whiting Writers Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in fiction, and three Pushcart Prizes. Marcus is an associate professor in the School of the Arts at Columbia University. More about the author


Reviews

‘It's to Marcus's credit that he seldom explains the alternative world he has imagined so thoroughly. The novel succeeds through the suggestion of apocalypse as the virus's arthritis-like symptoms come to seem a potent metaphor for parenthood’ Anthony Cummins, Metro

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Reviews

‘This book is most notable for the way it treats a genre-style paranoia trope in a very literary fashion ... This is a disaster story with very mature themes, such as the spreading of religion, the danger of the powerful word, and what enforced silence can mean for family values. While communication is still possible, it's worth spreading the word about this intriguing novel’ John Lloyd, We Love This Book

‘A novel concerned with children and language and the terrors wrought when one comes into possession of the other ... [up to its conclusion] Marcus's writing has been brilliant, vocal-cord-taut, all incantations and vatics ... His virus could represent anything: Advertising babble and political cant are health hazards; the entertainment media an epidemic. Then again this spoken parenticide could be taken as a symbol: of innocence lost ... Don't worry if you can't read the Torah, just sit and stare at this Aleph; repeat it soundlessly three times a day - your worship counts all the same. For those who fail to comprehend its significant and beautiful mysteries, I'd recommend the same method for Marcus's book. Behind the black, amid the white, it burns’ Joshua Cohen, London Review of Books

‘A futuristic, intense, clever portrayal... if you want a different, challenging read, this is it.’ Viv Groskop, Red

‘A story with the potential to wound, to shock, and to horrify’ Adam Langer, Boston Globe

‘It's to Marcus's credit that he seldom explains the alternative world he has imagined so thoroughly. The novel succeeds through the suggestion of apocalypse as the virus's arthritis-like symptoms come to seem a potent metaphor for parenthood’ Anthony Cummins, Metro

‘This book is most notable for the way it treats a genre-style paranoia trope in a very literary fashion ... This is a disaster story with very mature themes, such as the spreading of religion, the danger of the powerful word, and what enforced silence can mean for family values. While communication is still possible, it's worth spreading the word about this intriguing novel’ John Lloyd, We Love This Book

‘A novel concerned with children and language and the terrors wrought when one comes into possession of the other ... [up to its conclusion] Marcus's writing has been brilliant, vocal-cord-taut, all incantations and vatics ... His virus could represent anything: Advertising babble and political cant are health hazards; the entertainment media an epidemic. Then again this spoken parenticide could be taken as a symbol: of innocence lost ... Don't worry if you can't read the Torah, just sit and stare at this Aleph; repeat it soundlessly three times a day - your worship counts all the same. For those who fail to comprehend its significant and beautiful mysteries, I'd recommend the same method for Marcus's book. Behind the black, amid the white, it burns’ Joshua Cohen, London Review of Books

‘A futuristic, intense, clever portrayal... if you want a different, challenging read, this is it.’ Viv Groskop, Red

‘A story with the potential to wound, to shock, and to horrify’ Adam Langer, Boston Globe

‘Brilliant and disorientating’ George Pendle, Financial Times

‘A genuinely new thing in an age of recycling. Is the novel history? Not while people like this are still taking risks on it’ Tim Martin, Books of the Year, Daily Telegraph

‘The masterfully written Flame Alphabet is able to manifest the lethal power of speech, as well as its allure’ Anna Aslanya, Catholic Herald

The Flame Alphabet has one of the most impressive opening's I've read in a new work of literary fiction for quite some time ... It made me shudder ... Marcus's writing can be dense and occasionally difficult, but it is nevertheless interspersed with some genuinely inspired moments. And this novel is clearly very well thought through and multilayered’ Thomas Quinn, Big Issue

‘Quite simply, one of the most powerful works of fiction it has ever been my privilege to read... The Flame Alphabet is a revelation and a castigation... literature that makes sense of our age and will be read in ages to come.’ Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman

‘Funny and scary and all-out astounding ... It is one of the many wonders of this book that it outruns the interpretations you can draw from it. At one moment we appear to be in a parenting allegory, in another we are in the midst of a grammarian's in-joke. Are we reading a satire on the devaluation of language, or one on religious and political fundamentalism? The Flame Alphabet is all this and more. It is an apocalyptic vision in its truest sense, a lifting of the veil on language itself, in which the destruction and rebirth of the word is incorporated into the very text. You will not read too many books like this in your life ... Like a grammatical poltergeist, Marcus rearranges familiar subjects and objects into unfamiliar and unsettling patterns. It's disorientating but you'll never see words in quite the same way again’ Life & Arts, Financial Times

‘Wittgensteinian curtailments of meaning, alongside cackling villains and suspenseful escapes’ James Lasdun, Guardian

‘The writing is superb, the story a scary dystopia, mixing science fiction, Jewish mysticism and Marcus's own distinctive, dark vision’ David Herman, Jewish Chronicle

‘Brilliant and disorientating’ George Pendle, Financial Times

‘A genuinely new thing in an age of recycling. Is the novel history? Not while people like this are still taking risks on it’ Tim Martin, Books of the Year, Daily Telegraph

‘The masterfully written Flame Alphabet is able to manifest the lethal power of speech, as well as its allure’ Anna Aslanya, Catholic Herald

The Flame Alphabet has one of the most impressive opening's I've read in a new work of literary fiction for quite some time ... It made me shudder ... Marcus's writing can be dense and occasionally difficult, but it is nevertheless interspersed with some genuinely inspired moments. And this novel is clearly very well thought through and multilayered’ Thomas Quinn, Big Issue

‘Quite simply, one of the most powerful works of fiction it has ever been my privilege to read... The Flame Alphabet is a revelation and a castigation... literature that makes sense of our age and will be read in ages to come.’ Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman

‘Funny and scary and all-out astounding ... It is one of the many wonders of this book that it outruns the interpretations you can draw from it. At one moment we appear to be in a parenting allegory, in another we are in the midst of a grammarian's in-joke. Are we reading a satire on the devaluation of language, or one on religious and political fundamentalism? The Flame Alphabet is all this and more. It is an apocalyptic vision in its truest sense, a lifting of the veil on language itself, in which the destruction and rebirth of the word is incorporated into the very text. You will not read too many books like this in your life ... Like a grammatical poltergeist, Marcus rearranges familiar subjects and objects into unfamiliar and unsettling patterns. It's disorientating but you'll never see words in quite the same way again’ Life & Arts, Financial Times

‘His books resemble scientific tests, carried out in strange laboratories towards mysterious ends... Marcus's writing... can never be ordinary.’ Emile Cooke, Times Literary Supplement

‘Wittgensteinian curtailments of meaning, alongside cackling villains and suspenseful escapes’ James Lasdun, Guardian

‘The writing is superb, the story a scary dystopia, mixing science fiction, Jewish mysticism and Marcus's own distinctive, dark vision’ David Herman, Jewish Chronicle

‘Strange and moving and endlessly fascinating, this novel is yet another of Marcus's wicked triumphs.’ Flavorwire

‘One of our most audacious and inventive writers, Ben Marcus, catches fire in his thrillingly subversive The Flame AlphabetVanity Fair

‘I assure you that Marcus' chilling vision will haunt you long after his novel ends’ Haaretz

‘An authentic meditation on the sacred cruelty of communication that will leave his readers speechless’ San Francisco Chronicle

‘To people who just want to read a good yarn and who think Ben Marcus is too weird for them, I'd say: Think again . . . The novel can operate on multiple registers: as metaphor, sociology, conventional thriller, and, at bottom, discourse on parenthood and family that is freakishly sad and incredibly good.’ Bookforum

The Flame Alphabet concerns literalised "pollutions of comprehension". The plot - and it's a gripping though waywardly pursued one - is that the speech of children becomes a plague to their parents ... The Flame Alphabet overflows with an agonising pathos’ Toby Litt, New Statesman

‘Formally inventive, dark and dryly comic ... The Flame Alphabet has the feel of an event.’ New York Times Book Review

‘His books resemble scientific tests, carried out in strange laboratories towards mysterious ends... Marcus's writing... can never be ordinary.’ Emile Cooke, Times Literary Supplement

‘Strange and moving and endlessly fascinating, this novel is yet another of Marcus's wicked triumphs.’ Flavorwire

‘One of our most audacious and inventive writers, Ben Marcus, catches fire in his thrillingly subversive The Flame AlphabetVanity Fair

‘I assure you that Marcus' chilling vision will haunt you long after his novel ends’ Haaretz

‘An authentic meditation on the sacred cruelty of communication that will leave his readers speechless’ San Francisco Chronicle

‘To people who just want to read a good yarn and who think Ben Marcus is too weird for them, I'd say: Think again . . . The novel can operate on multiple registers: as metaphor, sociology, conventional thriller, and, at bottom, discourse on parenthood and family that is freakishly sad and incredibly good.’ Bookforum

The Flame Alphabet concerns literalised "pollutions of comprehension". The plot - and it's a gripping though waywardly pursued one - is that the speech of children becomes a plague to their parents ... The Flame Alphabet overflows with an agonising pathos’ Toby Litt, New Statesman

‘Ben Marcus is the rarest kind of writer: a necessary one. It's become impossible to imagine the literary world---the world itself---without his daring, mind-bending and heartbreaking writing’ Jonathan Safran Foer

The Flame Alphabet drags the contemporary novel kicking, screaming, and foaming at the mouth back towards the track it should be following.’ Tom McCarthy

‘An audacious new work of fiction, a richly allusive look at a world transformed by a new form of illness’ Publishers Weekly

‘I want the English language to do things it hasn't done before, and I want American fiction to do things it hasn't done before, and I want to be in a state of arrest at the moment of gazing upon a page of text, and Ben Marcus is one of those very few writers who can do that for me.’ Rick Moody

‘Echoes of Ballard's insanely sane narrators, echoes of Kafka's terrible gift for metaphor, echoes of David Lynch, William Burroughs, Robert Walser, Bruno Schulz and Mary Shelley: a world of echoes out of which the sanely insane genius of Ben Marcus somehow manages to wrest something new and unheard of. And yet as I read THE FLAME ALPHABET, feverishly turning the pages, I felt myself, increasingly, in the presence of a classic.’ Michael Chabon

‘Ben Marcus is one of the rare inventors in our literary language.... His [stories] can enchant and wreck your mind...’ Jonathan Lethem

‘Formally inventive, dark and dryly comic ... The Flame Alphabet has the feel of an event.’ New York Times Book Review

‘Ben Marcus is the rarest kind of writer: a necessary one. It's become impossible to imagine the literary world---the world itself---without his daring, mind-bending and heartbreaking writing’ Jonathan Safran Foer

The Flame Alphabet drags the contemporary novel kicking, screaming, and foaming at the mouth back towards the track it should be following.’ Tom McCarthy

‘An audacious new work of fiction, a richly allusive look at a world transformed by a new form of illness’ Publishers Weekly

‘I want the English language to do things it hasn't done before, and I want American fiction to do things it hasn't done before, and I want to be in a state of arrest at the moment of gazing upon a page of text, and Ben Marcus is one of those very few writers who can do that for me.’ Rick Moody

‘Echoes of Ballard's insanely sane narrators, echoes of Kafka's terrible gift for metaphor, echoes of David Lynch, William Burroughs, Robert Walser, Bruno Schulz and Mary Shelley: a world of echoes out of which the sanely insane genius of Ben Marcus somehow manages to wrest something new and unheard of. And yet as I read THE FLAME ALPHABET, feverishly turning the pages, I felt myself, increasingly, in the presence of a classic.’ Michael Chabon

‘Ben Marcus is one of the rare inventors in our literary language.... His [stories] can enchant and wreck your mind...’ Jonathan Lethem

‘A thoughtfully written, clever tale’ Lesley McDowell, Sunday Herald

‘An eye-burning high-literary encounter with science fiction ... The Flame Alphabet is abuzz throughout with the kind of scorching prose that we'd expect from such bona fide American literary hot stuff’ Stuart Hammond, Dazed & Confused

‘Larded with creepy metaphors, the author's own wayward language destabilises the reader's sense of linguistic propriety’ Independent

‘A thoughtfully written, clever tale’ Lesley McDowell, Sunday Herald

‘An eye-burning high-literary encounter with science fiction ... The Flame Alphabet is abuzz throughout with the kind of scorching prose that we'd expect from such bona fide American literary hot stuff’ Stuart Hammond, Dazed & Confused

‘Larded with creepy metaphors, the author's own wayward language destabilises the reader's sense of linguistic propriety’ Independent





 
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