Speak – Louisa Hall

Speak

 

Wow. I loved, loved, loved this book. I found myself going to bed at increasingly early times just so I could read this. True Story: I am usually in bed by 10pm most nights, then I read for an hour, one night when I was reading this, I was in bed for 9pm. I know I can read anywhere is my flat, but my favourite place to read is in bed. Or in the bath. Bath probably trumps bed, but you get the idea.

The book follows 5 narrators, each from a different point in history, all of whom have contributed to a single artificial intelligence. A baby bot. Then there is the additional narrator, that of the AI, and it is she, who is telling the story, through each of the narrators own stories, their own histories, and how those have contributed to the AIs existence, and their knowledge. And the writing, oh the writing! It is absolutely beautiful. But, let’s go back to the beginning.

I found the opening confusing, but in a good, drawing you in way. I was, however, concerned about the comparisons to Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. A book which I read, and expected to love, but didn’t. I even watched the film, which I felt demonstrated the link between the characters more clearly, but resulted in a lack of clarity in respect of the important details. I also saw part of it being filmed in Glasgow, so that was exciting, but I digress. I actually really enjoy this literary device, multiple narrators, telling their own tales, and seeing how they weave together. I am not sure why, but it is a way of telling a story that I find really satisfying. Particularly when they stretch across different times in history. I love seeing the parallels, and this was wonderfully created in this novel.

As I said above, the writing was stunning, the metaphors are incredible. One of my favourites from the book was, “For some time the writer looked upon shell: white, and patterned with rust, and having a lip like a pearled trowel”. How incredible is that?  “A lip like a pearled trowel. I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head through the following few pages. I found that the metaphors were so potent, that they pulled images to my mind unbidden. Another that I loved was “His handwriting on labels like little flocks of black birds”. There were so many though, that it was almost distracting from the writing, I kept pulling back and just thinking, “wow”.

I find that sometimes, with writing so detailed, and so thought over, that often it can feel forced, but the whole narrative, all the descriptions flowed seamlessly, and beautifully, it didn’t feel overthought as I read it. It all seemed so natural, when I know, that the author must have put so much time and effort into each and every word. Including, a word which is new to me ‘Contumacious’, which is an excellent word and means ‘refusing to obey or show respect’, in the context in which it was used. I may need to start using it in everyday life. But, anyway, the narratives all felt effortlessly interweaved, through all the characters and all the timeframes.

Each of the characters stories was fascinating, and I did not prefer one to the other. Instead it just kept me turning pages, well past the point where my eyes had initially started to droop. The chapters are so short and sweet, it was always too easy to think, another one…just one more…OK, this is definitely the last one, and before you know it, it is all ‘Shit, I have work in the morning’. Which seems quite apt in this respect, as the novel discusses time and the nature of time, and how past and present will both be contained in the future. I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, and it just felt like the right book to be reading right now, and I am really sad it is finished. Although, probably not as sad as my bank account, owing to my spending spree in the bookshop today in a bid to find something to replace it with.

I mean, I could have taken my time with it. I could have savoured it, but instead I walked down to Drygate on Sunday to have a look at the Urban Market (their name, not mine) that is held there, and to get a pint and to finish the book. I am unsure what music they were playing, I don’t know if it is just general background music, but it was perfect, and seemed to tie into the final few chapters of the book so well and it was just a lovely, relaxing way to finish off the weekend. Despite the judgement from everyone around me for daring to go to the pub and sit by myself and have a pint. What else are Sunday’s for?

So, this book is a definite 5 out 5, 10 out of 10, whatever you want to call it. Either way, you should absolutely, 100% read this book. It is worth it. Next Sunday’s book is ‘The Girls’, by Emma Cline, which has been on my reading list for a little while now.

I took some time last week and today to type up my ‘to-read’ list, which is nearly 2 full pages of A4. Then, typically, I struggled to find the books that I wanted, and ended up buying other books. ‘The Girls’, is actually the only one off my list out of the three I bought today. I need to start ordering ahead.

Also, if you enjoy reading about ancient cities that have disappeared, and are clearly ripe for exploration in a fantasy novel, you should read the article from The Guardian on Thonis-Heracleion. The description of it makes me feel like I want to disappear into it, to step back in time and to experience it. Both as a traveller, seeing it for the first time, and as an inhabitant at all the strata of its society (well, maybe not all). It is strange that it is gone forever, and that we will really never know what it was like, or entirely how it functioned, or all the other minutiae of day to day life that each of it inhabitants would have taken for granted. In the way that we take so much of our understanding of how the world functions at this time for granted Even if you were to go back 100 years to a blood relation, you would never really know, or understand, the ins and outs of their lives. Things get misinterpreted, or misplaced, or are purposefully obfuscated, so that descendants will never really know what happened, or where motivations lay. I guess that is the beauty of stories. We can always imagine.

Sorry, that went a bit philosophical there! Here is the link:

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/aug/15/lost-cities-6-thonis-heracleion-egypt-sunken-sea?CMP=share_btn_link

I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Amy

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