The Word by William Lane
Transit Lounge, 2018. ISBN 9781925760088
(Age: Adult - Senior secondary) As its title suggests, this novel is centred on the human construction of language, specifically reflecting on the way in which words form our thoughts and our speech, thus affecting our consciousness in terms of how we perceive both word and meaning. Starting off with a group of people who form a new cult, The Word, led by Kenric, previously a very successful and innovative advertising guru, this group of like-minded individuals are portrayed by the writer as obsessively attached to words and meaning.
Lane structures his narrative to plunge us into the busy world of a large city and then moves the narrative to the balmy beach-side where this cult chooses to live. It seems that they must not just follow that leader, as we see in the bible stories, but actually live with him, worshipping at his feet as it were. The house and its environs are of secondary concern to the first group of rather dissimilar individuals who seem to prefer to listen, rapt, to the leader, and to participate in long discussions about words.
This man is more recently recognized for his brilliance in the advertising world, particularly for his unusual aptitude for the imaginative creation of slogans and inspired choice of words. What becomes important to the group is living together and discussing meaning, importance, structure and variations on words, in the ordinary speech of everyday life, and in the meanings we attribute to all language.
Lane deftly elicits a response in us that mirrors that of some members of the group who become tired of the inane behaviour of some characters. At the heart of the novel is the brilliant wordsmith, Kenric, who leads the way like a new messiah, and is suitably worshipped for his clever and apt use of words, both in his previous work in advertising, where he was phenomenally successful, and in his leadership of The Word.
Odd, satirical and rich with wisdom, this satire on the modern world of the 'idea', albeit this time a cult of word-worshipping, and indeed of the worshipping of the imaginative wordsmith, shows both sides of the world of ideas: that of the inventor, who, one character said, 'threw it all away for an idea', and that of his followers, the acolytes. This insightful novel would be more likely to appeal to older readers, as there is little action and much talk, which is, after all, the very point of The Word.