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An electrifying literary conspiracy thriller from the internationally bestselling author of HHhH.

'One of the funniest, most riotously inventive and enjoyable novels you’ll read this year' - Observer

Roland Barthes is knocked down in a Paris street by a laundry van. It’s February 1980 and he has just come from lunch with Francois Mitterrand. Barthes dies soon afterwards. History tells us it was an accident.

But what if it were an assassination? What if Barthes was carrying a document of unbelievable, global importance? A document explaining the seventh function of language – an idea so powerful it gives whoever masters it the ability to convince anyone, in any situation, to do anything.

Police Captain Jacques Bayard and his reluctant accomplice Simon Herzog set off on a chase that takes them from the corridors of power to backstreet saunas and midnight meetings. What they discover is a worldwide conspiracy involving the President, murderous Bulgarians and a secret international debating society.


Establishes Laurent Binet as the clear heir to the late Umberto Eco, writing novels that are both brilliant and playful, dense with ideas while never losing sight of their need to entertain... One of the funniest, most riotously inventive and enjoyable novels you’ll read this year

Alex Preston, Observer

A hugely entertaining novel, taking delight in its own twists and turns

Nicholas Lezard, Spectator

Lively, earthy, experimental, ambitious, clever and endlessly entertaining… Smart, witty, direct, cool

Hal Jensen, The Times Literary Supplement

The premise is a stroke of genius. Roland Barthes did not die following an accident in 1980; he was murdered… The strands of the plot are skilfully interwoven through a dual process of fictionalisation of the real and realisation of the fictional

Andrew Gallix, Financial Times

An almost filmic detective romp, taking in glamorous international locations, killer dogs, Bulgarian secret agents, several varieties of sex and wild car chases

Andrew Hussey, Literary Review

A smart spoof thriller, cheekily taking as its cat the most famous Parisian intellectuals in the scene in 1980… It’s all fun and games, ever so clever, and highly self-congratulatory for those of us who wasted years studying the abstruse and ultimately worthless theories of these French thinkers

David Sexton

Laurent Binet is possessed of something like Superman’s X-ray vision combined with a million lasers. When he gets something in his sights, that thing is dead. And what he kills in his new novel is literary theory, in all its fake unuseful stupidity…. Reading Binet gives you that rare pleasure of feeling that you’re losing your grip on reality… What Binet can do with a scene, a paragraph, is beyond belief… One suspects Binet will make, or perhaps already has made, a lot of enemies with his jaw-droppingly disrespectful, extremely witty and – yes – heartfelt book. But one thing’s for sure, he’ll know how to handle them

Todd McEwan, Herald

Incredibly timely ... very entertaining, like a dirty Midnight in Paris for the po-mo set

Lauren Elkin, Guardian

On one level it’s a nostalgic look at a period in which French thinkers spent less time brooding on national identity… And on another it’s an exercise in pure intellectual slapstick of the kind that French humourists do well… It’s possible that his novel shares a few shreds of DNA with Zoolander

Christopher Tayler, London Review of Books

A playful conspiracy thriller.

Guardian, 2017 Books of the Year

[A] global conspiracy thriller involving French philosopher Roland Barthes and a deadly new language.

Metro, 2017 Books of the Year

The writing is subtly done and the pages are turning and the intrigue grows. As does the smile – the language is entertaining


A rollicking crime caper about the death of Roland Barthes. It had me rolling on the floor of the Paris Metro when I read it.

Alex Preston, Observer, 2017 Books of the Year

Admirably ambitious romp of a thing that reads like a thinking-man's Da Vinci Code, if such a thing were ever conceivable… This is hugely entertaining, laugh-out-loud stuff

Hilary A White, UK Press Syndication

It’s a rollicking ride, with Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva and a preening Bernard Henri-Lévy popping up to have their say… I dare you to read it and not hum the Pink Panther theme throughout

Shahida Barl, The Times Higher Education Supplement

Yes, structuralism and semiotics feature prominently, but never in an alienating way – if anything, it’s a playful introduction to critical theory. And it’s great to see behemoths of the French philosophical establishment like Foucault and Lacan taken down a peg or two in some downright feral cameos

Francesca Carington, Tatler

Laurent Binet’s The 7th Function of Language…was the most outrageously entertaining novel of the year, a defamatory fantasy about the supposed secret lives of eminent post-structuralists. A joy

Philip Hensher, Guardian

A conspiracy thriller about the death of the French literary theorist, Roland Barthes, that draws on the work of Jacques Derrida and Dan Brown with tongue firmly in cheek—to hilarious effect.

The Economist

A hoot from start to finish.

Hilary A. White and Tanya Sweeney, Irish Independent

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    April 16, 2018


    400 pages

    RRP $26.00

    Online retailers

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.co.nz

  • EBook


    May 4, 2017

    Vintage Digital

    400 pages

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle NZ
    • iBooks NZ
    • Google Play EBook NZ
    • Kobo Ebook
    • Booktopia NZ


Life is not a novel. Or at least you would like to believe so. Roland Barthes walks up Rue de Bièvre. The greatest literary critic of the twentieth century has every reason to feel anxious and upset. His mother, with whom he had a highly Proustian relationship, is dead. And his course on ‘The Preparation of the Novel’ at the Collège de France is such a conspicuous failure it can no longer be ignored: all year, he has talked to his students about Japanese haikus, photography, the signifier and the signified, Pascalian diversions, café waiters, dressing gowns, and lecture-hall seating – about everything but the novel. And this has been going on for three years. He knows, without a doubt, that the course is simply a delaying tactic designed to push back the moment when he must start a truly literary work, one worthy of the hypersensitive writer lying dormant within him and who, in everyone’s opinion, began to bud in his A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, which has become a bible for the under-twenty-fives. From Sainte-Beuve to Proust, it is time to step up and take the place that awaits him in the literary pantheon. Maman is dead: he has come full circle since Writing Degree Zero. The time has come.

Politics? Yeah, yeah, we’ll see about that. He can’t really claim to be very Maoist since his trip to China. Then again, no one expects him to be.

Chateaubriand, La Rochefoucauld, Brecht, Racine, Robbe-Grillet, Michelet, Maman. A boy’s love.

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