The Unspoken in Louisa Hall’s SPEAK

My thoughts on Louisa Hall’s SPEAK for the New & Noteworthy book club at BookPeople.


What makes intelligence human? That is the unspoken question (branching off into a multitude of streams of related questions) throughout the cooperative narratives that span the course of over 300 years in Speak by Louisa Hall. First comes the diary of Mary Bradford, a young Puritan girl setting sail for the New World with her beloved dog as her companion and her unwanted husband in tow. Next are the letters of renowned inventor and mathematician Alan Turing, who dreamed of a “thinking” machine, to the mother of his schoolmate. Following are the letters of Karl Dettman, a German expat living in the US in the 1960s and programmer of a “speaking” machine, and his wife Ruth, a professor whose interests include the diaries of pioneer women and giving Karl’s machine “memory.” Stephen Chinn writes his memoirs from his prison cell, of how he found Dettman’s machine and gave it…

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