Seek­ing the right words

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re­leased 25 Fe­bru­ary 316 pages | Pa­per­back/ ebook

Au­thor Louisa Hall

Pub­lisher Or­bit

On its US pub­li­ca­tion, Louisa Hall’s sec­ond novel gar­nered com­par­isons to David Mitchell’s Cloud At­las. It isn’t hard to see why; Speak is a patch­work whose the­matic and nar­ra­tive threads run through a va­ri­ety of past and fu­ture set­tings. There are six nar­ra­tives: the diary of a young woman sail­ing to Amer­ica in 1663; let­ters from Alan Tur­ing to a school­friend’s mother; an es­tranged cou­ple’s late 20th cen­tury cor­re­spon­dence; tran­scripts of an on­line chat with an AI; memoirs from dis­graced “baby­bot” cre­ator Stephen Chinn in 2040; and the re­flec­tions of one of Chinn’s ro­bots, pow­er­ing down in an aban­doned fac­tory.

Through the peo­ple that ( know­ingly or not) con­trib­uted to the AI be­hind the baby­bots, and those caught in the fall­out after the bots are out­lawed for be­ing too life­like, the novel ex­plores self- aware­ness, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and feel­ing in of­ten fas­ci­nat­ing ways. It’s a clever, thought­ful and ex­cep­tion­ally well- crafted novel, full of thought- pro­vok­ing turns of phrase and il­lu­mi­nat­ing par­al­lels across time and space. At the same time, it can be hard to warm to, with most char­ac­ters at one ir­ri­tat­ing ex­treme or an­other of a spec­trum be­tween self­ish­ness and self- ab­ne­ga­tion. Nic Clarke

Louisa Hall used to play squash pro­fes­sion­ally; she won a gold medal at the Pan- Amer­i­can Games in 2003.

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