Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Speak: A Novel by Louisa Hall

Speak: A Novel by Louisa Hall
Series: N/A
Genre: Fiction, sci fi,
Pages: 336 (Hardback)
Format: e-ARC
ISBN: 9780062391193
PublisherEcco (July 7, 2015)
Source: Publisher/Edelweiss


Synopsis: (Source: Hardback Book Flap)

A thoughtful, poignant novel that explores the creation of artificial intelligence—illuminating the very human need for communication, connection, and understanding.
In a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century to a correctional institution in Texas in the near future, told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive.
A young Puritan woman travels to the New World with her unwanted new husband. Alan Turing, the renowned mathematician and code breaker, writes letters to his best friend's mother. A Jewish refugee and professor of computer science struggles to reconnect with his increasingly detached wife. An isolated and traumatized young girl exchanges messages with an intelligent software program. A former Silicon Valley wunderkind is imprisoned for creating illegally lifelike dolls.
All five characters are attempting to communicate—with estranged spouses, lost friends, future readers, or computer programs that may or may not understand them. Although each speaks from a distinct place and moment in time, they all share the need to express themselves while simultaneously wondering if they will ever be heard, or understood. In dazzling and electrifying prose, Louisa Hall explores how the chasm between computer and human—shrinking rapidly with today's technological advances—echoes the gaps that exist between ordinary people.

Praise for Speak:
SPEAK  is that rarest of finds: a novel that doesn’t remind me of any other book I’ve ever read. A complex, nuanced, and beautifully written meditation on language, immortality, the nature of memory, the ethical problems of artificial intelligence, and what it means to be human.” (Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven)

“SPEAK reads like a hybrid of David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood; a literary page turner that spans four centuries and examines the idea of who and what we define as human. Louisa Hall has written a brilliant novel.” (Philipp Meyer, author of The Son)

My Thoughts:
'Speak' A Novel by Louisa Hall is a multi narrative consisting of five seemingly unconnected voices distanced by geography, and alternating time periods spanning from the 1600's, to the near future of 2040.

The 'voices' have their own individual style of narrative:

Mary, a young girl sailing with her parents and her new husband from England to the Colonies uses her journal to document her anguished thoughts as an outlet for her frustrations and feelings of increasing despair and isolation. So touching and exquisitely written this was by far the most compelling narrative for me;

A Texas inmate writes his (confessional) memoirs for his part in the story;

Chat transcripts of a young girl’s internet conversations are used as evidence in the inmate’s trial;

We hear the sad, deeply moving private and individual thoughts of a couple who are drifting ever farther apart, but remaining ever closer together; again these narratives were highly emotive and deeply moving.

Alan Turing writes letters voicing his concerns about a friend to the mother, ultimately divulging his own intimate thoughts, inner turmoils and dilemmas, again sensitive,  touching and beautifully composed.

The narrators 'speak' because they have a need to be heard and understood, but they do not necessarily 'speak' to whom they really should, nor are their voices necessarily heard by their intended listener. Their private intimate divulgences may also be read out of context, misinterpreted or manipulated and used against them or people connected to them in some way by an unintended listener.  Therefore, not speaking and being misunderstood becomes a common thread in this complex tale.

These totally random stories, and characters initially appear to be unconnected, however as you read on, fragments that interconnect the voices and threads begin to come together making sense as the story unravels.

I savoured and devoured this book in equal measures and genuinely didn't want it to end. Louisa Hall is a master in the art of painting vivid imagery with the written word. With stunning, sumptuous and beautiful balletic prose, I absolutely adored this novel.

Powerfully written in its complexity, and diverse in narrative style, Speak is sheer brilliance in its construction and delivery. Fans of David Mitchell's 'Cloud Atlas', Emily St. John Mandel's 'Station Eleven' and Erin Morgenstern's 'The Night Circus' should seek this one out as a 'must read'.

It is unfathomable to believe that 'Speak' is only the second novel from the author. I'll definitely read more from Louisa Hall and will have to contain my excitement until her next book is published.


Louisa Hall grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Haverford. After graduating from Harvard, she played squash professionally and was ranked #2 in the country. She teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin. Her poems have been published in journals, such as The New Republic, The Southwest Review, and Ellipsis. 'Speak' is her second novel. She lives in Austin.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of 'Speak' was provided by Ecco via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest unbiased review.

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