Seeking the right words
released 25 February 316 pages | Paperback/ ebook
Author Louisa Hall
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.