How to describe this book? – Omg – Well – it’s a crime thriller of sorts with a lot of travel, a few chases and quite a lot of innovative sex plus a few bloody deaths. But the characters and themes are completely pinned to the boards of philosophy, linguistics and literary theory. (How’s that?) Also there’s a huge comic element – something along the lines of a cross between Woody Allen and the Three Stooges.
On my wish list since it was released, it got nudged up by a post from a fellow member of one of my reading groups, but oh my … I was prepared for the literary aspects, some of the philosophy and even for the crime stuff, but not for the chase Three Stooges aspect or the fantastical – the book is hilarious,
The Seventh Function of Language
by Laurent Binet
2017 / 360 pages
read by Bronson Pinchot – 12h 26m
rating: 9.2 / very literary crime-alt-history
Basically, the book is about the death of Roland Barthes and the idea that he may have been murdered (he died suddenly but was not murdered) for a special document which was in his possession (lol), but was then lost or stolen (right).
This takes place in 1980 Paris just prior to the election of Francois Mitterrand (a prominent socialist) . Giscard d’Estaing (anti-communist president at the time) hires one Detective Bayard to investigate and also hires Simon as a sort of academic “translator” to help with the semiotics (etc) inherent in the discussions with the witnesses, folks interested in the document, and so on.
Simon is a kind of Sherlock Holmes reading the “signs” and explaining certain elements of linguistic/literary theory but he really doesn’t know everything (no one does). Much of the novel is based on historical people and either true of fictional events, but much of it is alternative history using fictional characters.
I am positive that quite a lot of the narrative as it relates to the themes went straight over my head, but I did manage to catch enough of it to enjoy the time spent.
So the politicos want to know – why was Barthes murdered? Where is this mysterious document which has been rumored to be the motive? And how can they get ahold of it for their own purposes?
The document outlines a possible “7the function of language” as hypothesized by a hypothetical reading of and elaboration on Roman Jakobson’s Six Functions of Language. The ability to use the 7th function effectively would seem to mean control of the world. (Yes.)
So our intrepid detectives travel from the streets and universities of Paris (where everything starts) to Bologne (for Umberto Eco) and Ithaca (for Searle) and finally to Venice (for the final debates). En route there are various and sundry crimes committed which don’t exactly line up with reality, but what the heck.
In the novel an international debate society called The Logos Club, is important and noted for its unusual penalty for losing – (gives the phrase “digital capital” a whole new meaning).
So not only do we have a “Who-done-it” in search of a crime, we have a novel in search of theory – and there are many suspects- one of whom feels like he is in a novel. (LOL!)