Lingua Franca by William Thacker
|Lingua Franca by William Thacker|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Anna Hollingsworth|
|Summary: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” When Miles Platting surfaces from a shipwreck into a world that has turned silent, he is forced to reconsider his relationship to language. Flashbacks unravel the story of Miles’s Lingua Franca, a naming rights agency, that re-brands towns by naming them after corporate sponsors. Although a comedy at heart, Lingua Franca also touches upon the quintessentially human theme of the importance of language to both individuals and society. The novel delivers more than the occasional chuckle, but remains shallower than its premises would suggest.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 272||Date: May 2016|
|Publisher: Legend Press|
|External links: Author's website|
Clichéd as it may sound, language finds itself at the very core of human existence and experience. On the one hand, it defines individual cognition and thoughts and serves as a way of communicating these thoughts to others; on the other, it defines the social sphere, giving social values to things, reflecting history, and constructing a common identity. It is also what William Thacker's second novel, Lingua Franca, revolves around.
Miles Platting emerges from a shipwreck seemingly unharmed – only to realize that the world has been put on mute. His attempts to speak are silenced, nor will anyone speak to him: mysteriously, all communication has become translated into an endless stream of written notes. Bound to his hospital bed, Miles is forced to reconsider his relationship to language that was so central to his former life. Flashbacks unravel the stories of the English teacher - turn - business mogul and his wealth-churning brainchild. The latter, Lingua Franca, is a naming rights company, the business idea of which is to sell the names of towns to corporate sponsors for branding purposes. The story centres around a project to re-brand the dying village of Barrow-in-Furness by naming it Birdseye-in-Furness, after the frozen goods manufacturer; the Lingua Franca hall of fame prides itself in re-naming successes such as turning Milton Keyes into Stella Artois. It is not all success for Miles even before his life is, quite literally, shipwrecked, though: death threats, suicides at the work place, malicious campaigns again selling town names, and a belligerent not-quite-ex-wife are all featured in Miles's story from linguistic supremacy to silence.
As such, Lingua Franca has all the ingredients for a comic masterpiece that also explores deeper themes. The very much identifiable stereotypes of towns and brands are an omnipresent comic potential (who would not enjoy a good laugh at Milton Keynes), as are the caricature-like characters contributing to situational comedy. The fact that Miles's bodyguard is not exactly an intellectual heavyweight is cleverly built into the dialogue, and the reader will inevitably identify familiar real-life characteristics in the Lingua Franca co-leader Nigel and Miles’s ideologically committed English teacher wife Kendall. Underlying the comic surface is a theme defined in Shakespearean terms: 'a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.' The theme of the power of language is omnipresent throughout the pages of the novel, promising insight into the importance of language to both individuals and society.
Yet, quite surprisingly and very regrettably, these ingredients remain mere promises of something greater, and the comic masterpiece that the first pages anticipate never emerges. Lingua Franca, quite frankly, simply fails to deliver. There are no new twists to the basic schema of situation and stereotype based comedy set out at the start of the novel. The branding of the stereotypically grim Milton Keynes as Stella Artois can amuse the reader only for so many pages, and the initially intriguing characters remain disappointingly shallow, lacking any sort of character development or depth. The topic of language suffers a similar fate: the Shakespeare quote is mentioned, yes, but never wholly explored. Thacker merely scrapes the surface of something that could, and does, have so much more to offer.
By no means is Lingua Franca an unpleasant read, though; it elicits more than the occasional chuckle in an easily accessible style. Its major failure is to lead the reader to expect more than this. Language as a quintessentially human phenomenon is admittedly a tough topic to tackle, and equally, to carry a constant stream of comedy throughout a novel requires dexterity from any author. Regrettably, Lingua Franca aims too high in attempting this dual challenge, and ends up promising much but delivering little.
If this book appeals to you, then you might also like to try Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
You can read more book reviews or buy Lingua Franca by William Thacker at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Lingua Franca by William Thacker at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.