|Shortlisted for the 2018 Goldsmiths Prize
‘Murmur is a novel of multiple ideas, which seems right given its main protagonist, Alec Pryor, is loosely based on the predicament of the philosophical mathematician, Alan Turing. It is also a novel forged from an immensely beautiful writing intelligence. Murmur is a fully achieved literary experiment, digging deep into all the dimensions of human consciousness, including state sanctioned savagery.’
– Deborah Levy
‘The narrator of Murmur is a mathematician and computer pioneer in pre-1960s Britain. Sentenced to hormone therapy for the “crime” of being gay, Alec Pryor is very obviously standing in for the computer genius and codebreaker Alan Turing. The book is a disorientating and hallucinatory exploration of a mind warped by the oestrogen medication stilboestrol, the treatment forced on Turing. An extraordinary exploration of dreams, consciousness, science and the future.’‘Will Eaves’s Murmur, a novel about Alan Turing so good and so strange it makes one want to shout.
– Rowan Hooper, New Scientist Books of the Year
‘Endlessly rewarding, it is a shining example of the moral and imaginative possibilities of fiction.’
– Justine Jordan, Guardian Books of the Year
‘Will Eaves's Murmur is a dive through consciousness, from the mundane to memory dreams, and beyond. The narrator – “Alec Pryor”/Alan Turing, the author – explores, from the inside, and with great scrupulousness, the mind’s unknowns (“at what point [does] unconscious material become conscious”) and the tragedy of Alan Turing. Knowing the story does not soften the ending.’
– Beverley Bie Brahic, TLS Books of the Year
– Ian Sansom, TLS Books of the Year
‘Embracing a breathtakingly broad spectrum of concerns, Alec [Pryor]’s reflections on cosmic questions, such as whether “the real nature of mind is that it is unencompassable by mind”, always loop back to his inner universe. He is recursion incarnate, and so is this book, its themes including that of the mirror, an object that defies determinism. Out of its optics the notion of encryption emerges, encapsulated in the phrase “The key is part of a message”, a vision from a future where one can be both a man and a machine. “Thinking machines”, another recurring thread in Alec’s dreams, are simultaneously terrifying and fascinating. Parallels are drawn between society's fear of homosexuality and its wariness towards the possibility of Artificial Intelligence; an original idea allowing both phenomena to be exposed in a new light.
‘Murmur could be compared to the writings of Georges Perec (think logic and formal structure) and Robert Walser (normalcy as a relative concept), but it's too multifaceted to categorise without resorting to the clichéd “experimental”. Its variety of philosophical arguments aside, it offers many stylistic delights. Flowing from thought to thought, the prose keeps erupting with poetry – “For I am mathematics and a page, the witness of a wilderness” – before recursing to higher mathematics: a mode of thinking and being, a way out of and back into reality.’
– Anna Aslanyan, Review 31 Best Books of 2018
‘Murmur, which is partly inspired by the life of Alan Turing, ambitiously and brilliantly illustrates the relationships between fiction, consciousness, and artificial intelligence.’
– David McCooey, Austrialian Book Review Books of the Year
‘At this uncertain cultural moment arrives Will Eaves’s remarkable new novel Murmur – a novel of both science and subjective consciousness, painfully aware of the shortcomings of the act of narration ... Murmur’s transgressive power lies at the level both of language and of structure ... Will Eaves has achieved one of the pinnacles of novelistic endeavour: he has given deep thought to human experience, and in doing so brought to life the “self-conscious wonder” of thought itself.’
– Sam Byers, Times Literary Supplement
‘The premise is startlingly ambitious: what if we could think our way into Alan Turing’s dreams? It’s the sort of thing Turing himself might have attempted as he tried to move between minds, questing for limits of shared comprehension. But a novelist imagining the unconscious of a genius and finding words for his visions – can that be wise? Yes, if the writer is Will Eaves. Scrupulous, humane, sad and strange, [Murmur] is as bracingly intelligent as it is brave.
. . . Huge efforts are being made in contemporary universities to foster dialogues between arts and sciences. In this, as in most things he touched, Turing leapt over boundaries, barely noticing that they were there. He was a philosopher and a psychologist, as well as a computational mathematician and biologist. Eaves conducts narrative experiments that honour that legacy. He knows that Turing’s theories of consciousness have implications for fiction, and that fiction can operate at the frontiers of what we know about the workings of our minds.’
– Alexandra Harris, Guardian (full review here)
‘Murmur is a poignant meditation on the irrepressible complexity of human nature and sexuality, and a powerful indictment of the cowardice and groupthink that sustain state-sanctioned barbarism.’
– Houman Barekat, Irish Times
‘In the space of just 176 pages we are whisked on a dizzying trip through [Turing/Alec Pryor’s] musings on mathematics, machines, consciousness, desire, sexuality, transformation and loss, as well as on his own past. Glancing inside this mind is like flickering between a hundred radio channels, all of which are broadcasting a great scientist or philosopher speaking intimately about their work ... No one can be sure of what went through Turing’s mind in the final months before his suicide, but Murmur – a weaving, witty text packed with insight about the future – feels entirely believable.’
– Hilary Lamb, Engineering & Technology
‘A marvellous and compelling book, on a subject of huge importance and scandal’
– Bernard O’Donoghue
‘Murmur is a profound meditation on what machine consciousness might mean, the implications of AI, where it will all lead. It’s one of the big stories of our time, though no one else has treated it with such depth and originality.’
– Peter Blegvad
‘[Murmur] has achieved the holy grail of modern prose: conveying consciousness ... Even if it were merely another tale about a courageous man or woman overcoming the odds and discovering the fruits of love, nature and memory, it would still be a very original handling. In taking those themes and weaving them with our anxieties about the future, it is among the first and best of its kind.’
– Oscar Yuill, Review 31 (full review here)
‘For all that the writing is excellent (as we have come to expect with Will Eaves); and for all that the book grapples with a veritable menagerie of “worthy” ideas (there are so many more we could have discussed at length in this review); and for all that it provides another worthy voice to consider in the ongoing conversations surrounding artificial intelligence – none of these are really what the book is “all about”, or what readers should take away as being the most important aspect of Murmur. Because ultimately, what it all comes down to is that this is a novel about love. And it is the way in which Eaves presents this most human of emotions, that really makes this novel truly intelligent.’Taking its cue from the arrest and legally enforced chemical castration of the mathematician Alan Turing, Murmur is the account of a man who responds to intolerable physical and mental stress with love, honour and a rigorous, unsentimental curiosity about the ways in which we perceive ourselves and the world. Formally audacious, daring in its intellectual inquiry and unwaveringly humane, Will Eaves’s new novel is a rare achievement.
– Nothing in the Rule Book (full review here)
The opening section of Murmur was shortlisted for the 2017 BBC National Short Story Award. A recording of Blake Ritson reading this piece is available to listen to or download from the BBC radio iPlayer site here.
Also by Will Eaves and available from CB editions:
The Absent Therapist (shortlisted for the 2014 Goldsmiths Prize)
‘A miniature but infinite novel, and unlike anything I’ve read before. It’s just achingly good.’
– Luke Kennard
‘The whole book is like someone deeply charismatic and charming daring you not to find them insane. It’s wonderful.’
– Nicholas Lezard, Guardian (full review here)
The Inevitable Gift Shop (shortlisted for the 2016 Ted Hughes Award)
‘It’s like a conversation with an extraordinarily wise friend: surprising, tender, funny and profound.
– Michelle de Kretser
‘Penetratingly clever and often quite moving and extremely charming, border-crossing uncategorisable writing ... there’s something holistic about it, in the way it enacts the absolute continuity between inner and outer life, what we feel what we think what we do.’
– Patrick McGuinness