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Murmur (2018)

by Will Eaves

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10216224,837 (3.8)21
"In Murmur, a hallucinatory masterwork, Will Eaves invites us into the brilliant mind of Alec Pryor, a character inspired by Alan Turing. Turing, father of artificial intelligence and pioneer of radical new techniques to break the Nazi Enigma cipher during World War II, was later persecuted by the British state for "gross indecency with another male" and forced to undergo chemical castration. Set during the devastating period before Turing's suicide, Murmur evokes an extraordinary life, the beauty and sorrows of love, and the nature of consciousness" --… (more)
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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: In Murmur, a hallucinatory masterwork, Will Eaves invites us into the brilliant mind of Alec Pryor, a character inspired by Alan Turing. Turing, father of artificial intelligence and pioneer of radical new techniques to break the Nazi Enigma cipher during World War II, was later persecuted by the British state for “gross indecency with another male” and forced to undergo chemical castration. Set during the devastating period before Turing’s suicide, Murmur evokes an extraordinary life, the beauty and sorrows of love, and the nature of consciousness.

THE PUBLISHER SENT ME AN ARC IN 2018. THANKS!

Winner of the 2019 WELLCOME BOOK PRIZE!

My Review: First, read this:
The problem with disguising or encrypting is that the original still exists. One has doubled the information, not made it less sensitive. Something has happened to it, but the semantic loaf persists behind a mask, a veil, a foreign accent, new papers, breasts etc., and really the only thing to do about that, if you’re still anxious, is to remove both bits of information—the original and the encryption—altogether.

That quote should tell you if this trip is one you wish to take. Eaves's narrative choices are all right there, as is the chosen PoV of third-person limited. From the chapter-opening quotes selected from Turing's voluminous writings to the damning if underplayed social commentary, the whole is of a piece and gleams like the gem it is.

So why only four stars? Because it's been fictionalized, and the elision and compression inherent in that act (I've typed "of vandalism" three times and erased it four) seldom sits well with me. Even when, as now, I recognize that the author is seeking (and mostly finding) a Deeper Truth, it...feels like a cheapening of this tragedy. BUT YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY READ IT!!
  richardderus | Jun 23, 2021 |
This is a tough one. The prose is gorgeous, and it often felt like I was reading poetry more than prose, but the dreamlike sections combined with the disjointedness of the narrative made for a tough read in terms of content, and if I hadn't known what the book was loosely about, I think I might have been mostly lost. As it is, I appreciated the language and the intent, and could even understand what it seemed the author was going for, but I didn't enjoy this as much as I would have liked and probably wouldn't recommend it. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Mar 8, 2021 |
Alec Pryor finds a man, Cyril, that he picks up at a fairground and manages to persuade him to come home for the night. He offers payment and Cyril refuses to accept, but Pryor realises that £3 has been taken. He contacts him and Cyril returns to the home, where they have a row. A few days later he comes home to find that £10 has been taken and contacts him again, Cyril thinks it might be a friend of his. Pryor goes to the police with the story and they fingerprint the house and it turns out to be this associate. He is picked up by the police and when he is questioned tells them of the liaison between Alec and Cyril. Alec Pryor is charged with gross indecency.

He is forced to agree to a series of injections that are a chemical castration, the cure of the time, for homosexuality. As these hormones start to change his body from a lean runner into something that feels unreal, he begins to dream of past and present events. Some are relieved with the stark emotions from the time, others have a more surreal horror to them. Other dreams are about the future of AI and how that will overlap with human consciousness. Interwoven with the dreams and the correspondence he has with June, a lady he almost married, but chose not to as he didn’t want a marriage just for show.

Even though the protagonist is called Alec, this is a pseudonym for the brilliant mathematician and code breaker, Alan Turing. There were parts of this book that I liked, for example, the letters back and forwards between Alec and June, but the dreamlike states in the second part of the book are as complex as they are confusing a lot of the time. I did struggle with it, and at times I really couldn’t get along with it. That said, Eaves is obviously a writer of some talent and I think it will be worth exploring some of his other work. May even give this a re-read at some point. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I wanted to love this work. There were moments of intense language ballet, where the balance was perfect and the rhythm beautiful. But the pacing was so sporadic, I had a hard time keeping up my reading momentum, and once it was broken, I found myself not wanting to go back to it for weeks, by which time I had lost any sense of the character development.

My favorite parts were the pieces of the letter writing between Alec and June.

All in all, it was an amazing exploration of the internal chaos of a genius mind, but that made it difficult to grasp for any mere mortal. ( )
  HippieLunatic | Oct 6, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is literary fiction and far from straightforward. It’s based on the life of Alan Turing (Alec Pryor in the book), the brilliant British mathematician and computer scientist (now on the £50 note) who later led the Bletchley Park team that helped unravel the secrets of the Nazi code machine, Enigma. Ping-ponging between dreams, memories, letters with a woman friend, and more in the months before his suicide, the novel has been called “a hallucinatory masterwork.” Much of it looks back to Pryor’s adolescence, his discovery of his homosexuality, and the social and school problems that resulted. Imagining the interior life of a real person is quite a challenge for an author, and Eaves does it well. ( )
1 vote Vicki_Weisfeld | Jul 17, 2019 |
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Fear of homosexuals in never far from the surface.
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"In Murmur, a hallucinatory masterwork, Will Eaves invites us into the brilliant mind of Alec Pryor, a character inspired by Alan Turing. Turing, father of artificial intelligence and pioneer of radical new techniques to break the Nazi Enigma cipher during World War II, was later persecuted by the British state for "gross indecency with another male" and forced to undergo chemical castration. Set during the devastating period before Turing's suicide, Murmur evokes an extraordinary life, the beauty and sorrows of love, and the nature of consciousness" --

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