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Speak | Louisa Hall | Review

I received this book from Hachette Publishing New Zealand, 
in exchange for an honest review. 

She cannot run. She cannot walk. She cannot even blink. 
As her batteries run down for the final time, all she can do is speak. Will you listen?

"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 illegal lifelike dolls. 
Each of these characters is attempting to communicate across gaps — to estranged spouses, lost friends, future readers, or a computer program that may or may not understand them. 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. Though each speaks from a distinct place and moment in time, all five characters share the need to express themselves while simultaneously wondering if they will ever be heard, or understood." - Good Reads

Speak follows the stories of 5 different characters (or 6...possibly 7), as Good Reads has kindly mentioned for us. Mary writes in her diary as she travels by boat to the New World; Alan Turing writes letters to his best friend's mother about his life and the things he's working on; Karl and Ruth Dettman are falling apart in their marriage; a transcript used in Stephen R. Chinn's trial shows conversations between Gaby, a young girl and a robot; and Stephen R. Chinn, a computer programmer writes his memoirs in a Texas jail in 2040. While all the stories seem unconnected, as the story progresses you start to see the links between them, and the artificial intelligence, MARY3, as a connecting point.

It's a little hard to write about the plot or the settings or any of that because of how the book is written. There isn't a narrator, other than the individuals who speak their story in some form (diary, letters, online conversations, memoirs), and I guess that's the point. It was a very thought-provoking book at times, and it definitely got me thinking about communication and how much of that is us being who we are, and how and what makes us truly human. One of my favourite lines is by Gaby, as she lies unable to move in her bedroom, unable to speak.

"Tell me what happens next, after my body has frozen. When I can't communicate. What will I be?"

At this stage in the story (quite early on) I was really enjoying it. My favourite voice was the conversation between Gaby and MARY3, and while I did enjoy the others at the beginning, as the story went on I did find myself getting bored. I was tired of hearing about Mary on her boat and her insane obsession with her dog, and her weird diary-writing style, and I didn't care much for many of the other characters.

However, it was a very well written book, and Hall has a great style in all the different voices she writes. I think, while I wouldn't read it again, I am glad I read it. For me, it just reiterated the fact that making robots that think and talk is a bad idea. It can only go badly. What's important is people; our thoughts, our fears, our connections with loved ones, our life and eventual death. It's like that for a reason, and we shouldn't try to mess with that.

Speak is a great book for people who like A.I. stories, and stories with a multitude of seemingly unconnected characters, spanning centuries. As I said, it's thought provoking, educational, and brilliantly written, especially for Hall's second book.

Image from Good Reads.

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