It’s funny that I just happened to read Speak and Cloud Atlas within a few weeks of each other. (Omg, I’m so far behind on reviews!) I went into both not knowing much about them, but they’re so similar in structure and tone that it feels like serendipity. Like Cloud Atlas, Speak doesn’t have much of an overarching plot and has multiple narrators spanning centuries. Although Speak is less gimmicky in its structure, both books connect the characters through personal records and intertwining themes.
I don’t know how anyone could really sum up this book’s plot so let me just tell you about the narrators. An artificial intelligence ties the characters together through the centuries. Created in the mid twentieth century by a scientist and nurtured by the scientist’s wife, she collects the words and stories people tell her. Among the stories people tell her are the tales of a young Puritan making her way across the Atlantic to the New World and Alan Turing’s formative schoolyard friendship with Christopher Morcom. Moving forward a few decades, the artificial intelligence is upgraded several times and eventually used by a programmer as the basis for a line of bot dolls so realistic that human children start preferring their company to the company of other human beings. Their presence in society is so destructive that the government bans the dolls and many girls start suffering withdrawals so strong that their symptoms start manifesting physically. One of these girls eventually strikes up a friendship with the online version of the artificial intelligence.
Louisa Hall’s prose is truly beautiful. Each character has a distinctive and enjoyable voice. While I definitely had a favorite (Puritans ftw!), I loved them all. The loosely knit narrative is filled with resonant themes like loneliness, loss, what it means to be human, and making unconventional connections. If you need a book with a lot of plot, this probably isn’t the book for you, but if you’re a sucker for beautiful prose, multiple narratives, and/or a book you can read over and over and still pull out more meaning, then Speak is for you.