[also posted on Goodreads]
The Word Exchange – Alena Graedon
I picked this novel up at the library and decided to read it based on the back blurb. I’ve been working on a project about a dystopian story of a world without words, so I wanted to see how someone else handled this topic. The answer: very differently. But still, enjoyable themes. Plus I learned something as a writer from this book that I can apply to my own revisions from this author’s first novel, things I didn’t care for.
There are some really deep layers in this story, from philosophy of language, how important it is to we humans, to the impact of technology, our tools, on our ability to be human. Graedon exposes the risks involved when we don’t think clearly about those risks and what could go wrong.
I enjoyed the characters and dealing with occupations we don’t think about – lexicographers and dictionary publishing. Be honest now. When is the last time, if ever, you thought about who does this work?
The possibility that the really bad things that happen in this fictional world would/could really happen is probably at the low end, but there are already impacts of our technologies that we are experiencing: reduced emphasis on hand-writing, reduced reliance on memory, and poor spelling. These are forms of aphasia – damaged language centres – so maybe she is on to something and we are sleep walking into a major shift in our use of language. We may be communicating worldwide and with more frequency than in the past but are we really doing it well and clearly?
A good effort.