Summary and book reviews of Speak by Louisa Hall

Speak

by Louisa Hall

Speak by Louisa Hall
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2015, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2016, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

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 institute in Texas in the near future, and 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 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.

Book One
The Memoirs of Stephen R. Chinn: Chapter 1

Texas State Correctional Institution, Texarkana; August 2040

What's the world like, the world that I'm missing? Do stars still cluster in the bare branches of trees? Are my little bots still dead in the desert? Or, as I sometimes dream during endless lights-out, have they escaped and gathered their forces? I see them when I can't fall asleep: millions upon millions of beautiful babies, marching out of the desert, come to take vengeance for having been banished.

It's a fantasy, of course. Those bots aren't coming back. They won't rescue me from this prison. This is my world now, ringed with barbed wire. Our walls are too high to see out, except for the spires that puncture the sky: two Sonic signs, one to the east and one the west, and to the north a bowling ball the size of a cow. These are our horizons. You'll forgive me if I feel the urge to reach out.

I want you to forgive me. I realize ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

There are strong elements linking all the characters. They have each lost someone important, and to some extent the idea of artificial intelligence – creating a perfect companion – is an attempt to make up for an irrecoverable loss. This cacophony of voices, some monologues and some dialogues, is Hall's collective comment on the difficulty of sustaining intimate communication. Each character, even the robot, realizes language is precious.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review (748 words).

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Media Reviews

Los Angeles Times

Speak is a kaleidoscope of a book… it is a novel that wants to raise big questions about how we know one another and ourselves

NPR

Stunning and audacious… It’s not just one of the smartest books of the year, it’s one of the most beautiful ones, and it almost seems like an understatement to call it a masterpiece.

Publishers Weekly

Characters rarely speak to each other (except in letters, many of which never get replies), resulting in some flat passages.

Booklist

Starred Review. Hall subtly weaves a thread through a temporally diverse cast of narrators. Like all good robot novels, Speak raises questions about what it means to be human as well as the meaning of giving voice to memory.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Hall capably weaves the stories to form a beautiful rumination on the nature of memory and the frailty of human relationships.

Author Blurb Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven
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.

Author Blurb Philipp Meyer, author of The Son
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.

Reader Reviews

Sharon Mills

Haunting, profound and utterly compelling
'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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Turing Test

The Turing test judges a machine's ability to exhibit human-like intelligence, as envisioned by Alan Turing (1912–1954), one of the characters in Louisa Hall's novel Speak. The test is conducted as a written conversation between a human and a machine, externally monitored by a human observer. The conversational partners exchange text messages across a computer network, just like Gaby and MARY3 do in Speak. Since there is no oral component, the human competitor does not have the advantage of a more authentic voice. If the human mediator cannot tell the difference between the responses given by the two participants, the machine is said to pass the test. Turing believed that, within five minutes of conversation, a machine would ...

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