A clever and surprisingly action-packed attempt to merge abstruse theory and crime drama.


A famous semiotician has been killed. Call the police! And the post-structuralists!

It’s 1980, and Roland Barthes has been struck by a van on a Paris street. He’ll later die in the hospital, and the incident initially appears to be an accident; the famous decoder of signs and symbols in everyday culture could be absent-minded and had been drinking. But as Jacques Bayard, a police superintendent, begins his investigation, dark rumblings emerge that Barthes possessed knowledge of a “seventh function of language” coveted by scholars, gangsters, and politicians alike. To make sense of the dense thickets of linguistic theory and jargon required to crack the case, Jacques recruits Simon Herzog, a young semiotician, and soon this unlikely Holmes and Watson are traveling to Italy and the United States chasing clues, in the process infiltrating the Logos Club, a secret group that hosts high-end debates that are literally blood sport (the loser consents to having a finger chopped off). Binet’s second novel (HHhH, 2012) is at once a mystery and a satire of mysteries, and though the storytelling is often baggy and thick with academic lingo, there’s more action than the intellectual setting implies. There are high-stakes motives (the “seventh function” allegedly has mind-control powers), explosions, and a healthy amount of sex (male prostitutes play a critical role in the plot). But Binet also operates on a brainier level, giving some real-life drama to the likes of Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Umberto Eco, and other thinkers who dealt in linguistic abstractions; his version of a sex scene is a union of “two desiring machines” on (symbolism alert) a dissecting table. “I think I’m trapped in a novel,” Simon says, in just one of the novel’s many overt displays of irony; students of post-structuralism will surely detect more subtle ones.

A clever and surprisingly action-packed attempt to merge abstruse theory and crime drama.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-26156-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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