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Bookworm In Your Ear: The Drama of Semantics

For these two novels, just know that Binet wrote HHhH, and that Beauman is the author of The Teleportation Accident. That should be enough of a recommendation if you're looking for fiction that is more intellectually challenging, yet free-flying.

The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet (available on

Here is another example of Binet's penchant for historical fiction of the extreme order. Literary critic Roland Barthes is run over by a truck while crossing a Paris street in 1980, after having lunch with then Presidential candidate Mitterrand. From this fact, Binet sets up the premise of his 'what if this was not an accident?' And what we get is a secret history of French intelligentsia as a farcical Marx Brothers romp. The likes of Foucault, Derrida, and Althusser all have cameos. Our protagonists are police detective Jacques Bayard and his accomplice, semiology professor Simon Herzog. With a plot that involves a lost manuscript that details harnessing this 7th function of language - which has to do with transforming one's words to imperatives that others follow - one can see the potential of how it could be used for political purposes.


Madness Is Better Than Defeat by Ned Beauman (available on

If you're looking for the surreal and fantastical in fiction that purports to be fact-based and historical, do yield to this little gem from Beauman. In this novel, two expeditions are sent in 1938 to a temple deep in the Honduras jungle. One comes from New York, sent by a multimillionaire and led by his son, with the orders to dismantle the temple stone by stone - with the intent to reassemble the temple in the industrialist's Long Island estate. The second expedition comes from Los Angeles, a film crew tasked to shoot a movie with the temple as their main location - this one led by the film's director. Absurd in a magnificent way, the jungle passages are like an updated version of Aguirre Wrath of God or The Lost City of Z. To sweeten the pot, there's a rogue CIA agent out to exploit the situation, questions of paternity, and a whole lot of shenanigans.