Speak tells the story of six (or much rather seven) different characters, whose storylines are intervowen throughout the novel:
- Mary Bradford is a young girl in the year 1663, whose parents have to leave England and thus she inevitable has to follow along to America. The majority of her narrative takes place on a ship and during the voyage something happens, that shatters her world.
- The second narrator is Alan Turing, who keeps up a correspondence with the mother of his childhood friend Christopher Morcom. In these letters he discusses a lot of his ideas regarding artificial intelligence.
- The third story is the story of Karl and Ruth Dettman. These two have marital problems, stemming from Karl´s work with artificial intelligence and Ruth´s demands that he takes his work a lot further than he is willing to do.
- Gaby White is a girl that lives in the year 2035 and her narrative is a transcript of a conversation between her and Mary3, an online version of the most advanced artificial intelligence in existence.
- In the year 2040 Stephen Chinn writes his memoirs while sitting in jail for the creation of Mary3. He reflects upon his life and what decisions and choices has led him to this.
- The last narrator is Eve, a babybot who is about to be decommisioned because she is too "excessively lifelike".
Linking these stories together, Louisa Hall explores what it means to be human. Are we human because we are able to form memories, to communicate with others, to have feelings? Which quality makes us exactly human? And if we are able create an artificial intelligence and store memories of different people in this AI, give it a voice so that it can speak and communicate, what makes us believe that this artifical intelligence wouldn´t be able to pass as a human being? And if we assume that the growth of neurons in our brain follows the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematic pattern that is found in growth patterns throughout the natural world, could we apply this pattern on a computer and would it then pass as a human or even become human in the process?
I really enjoyed the themes of this books. The creation of AI is fascinating and the reasons, why these different people do the things in their lifetime that they are doing, are rooted in a deep affection for a beloved thing, which they have lost and are desperate to get back again in some kind of sense. So basically at the center of all the stories we have love. Love, who is sometimes lost by death or lack of communication. Love which leads to loss, grief, loneliness, sadness ... this novel definitely isn´t a light read, but it has been intriguing and I really liked the narrative style with its intervowen storylines.
I had some issues with the characters, though. I didn´t feel like they were seven distinct characters. Every voice was basically the same and they had to go through the same struggles and the ending of each story has been similar to the endings of all the other stories. The most unique chapter is the diary of Mary Bradford, because she has a unique writing style. But other than that all the narratives were similar in style and tone. And since this is a novel with intervowen storylines, it felt like all the narrations became one big mush at some point throughout the novel.
So this novel is flawed, but overall I really enjoyed it.