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The 7th Function of Language

The name Roland Barthes may mean nothing to you - but he's integral to the plot of this smart novel

The 7th Function of Language – Laurent Binet, Harvill Secker, £16.99

It does not really matter if you have never heard of literary theorist Roland Barthes – he dies quite early – although, like a bad penny, keeps turning up.
He stepped in front of a laundry van. He was on a pedestrian crossing but he should have known the rules for that in Paris… don’t walk: wait for the sign.
And signs are what this is about. For Barthes was carrying a vital document detailing work on semiology, the study of signs and the seventh function of language of the book’s title.
Superintendent Jacques Bayard only gets involved because Barthes had been lunching with presidential candidate François Mitterrand and his bosses want a smear to paste over the socialist’s chances in the upcoming election.
But after questioning the badly injured Barthes, Bayard discovers that some papers have gone missing and the case is not so routine after all.
This is an unlikely novel about an unlikely topic and signally unlikely to make headway in a world of instant gratification, and yet the writing is subtly done and the pages are turning and the intrigue grows.
As does the smile, the language is entertaining.

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