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Murmur by Will Eaves

Murmur (2018)

by Will Eaves

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6914278,858 (3.92)12
"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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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 |
Intense read and highly original. The narrator (Alec Pryor) worked tirelessly and with such rare ingenuity, at Bletchley, to prevent the evils and inhumanity of German Nazism from invading British shores, only to be subjected to the same barbarism and torture in his own land. Extremely ironic! A powerful and sad narrative. ( )
  dale01 | Jul 9, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
What is the difference between a human and the AI a human designs? Are humans merely machines themselves? Is empathy only encoded, a mimetic reproduction of what we assume someone else feels and needs?

Will Eaves' Murmur is a palimpsest, the story of an Alan Turing-like scientist, Alec Pryor, who's forced into hormonal castration by his government for the crime of being gay. This castration is a removal of Pryor's self, a debugging of a fundamental program that wasn't corrupted in the first place. Pryor compares his castration to the isolation an immigrant feels in an unwelcoming country. The physical effects of the hormone are a devolution.

Pryor turns his focus inward, to questions of what makes someone human. Through it all, the thread of his government's betrayal of him—their view that he is a criminal who needs to be rehabilitated—pulls him toward questions of empathy. Specifically, how can you program it in individuals who think their unquestioning enforcement of unjust rules and orders fulfills the social contract? Should not the social contract be more concerned with true justice and fairness, not the veneers of civility and law and order?

I'm interested in Eaves' second line of inquiry: What is empathy and who decides how it is administered? It is the necessary, missing piece of the puzzle. It matters less how we arrive at empathy. What matters is finding a way to act with empathy, most especially when it seems as if the cost is too great and the reward too little.

Murmur is deeply radical—in the best, truest definition of the word. "Before there was speech, there was listening, and the dead rise with the love of it" (182). ( )
1 vote LibraryPerilous | Jun 23, 2019 |
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Fear of homosexuals in never far from the surface.
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