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This book was clever and well written, but not interesting. Fortunately some of the performers were quite good for their parts, but about half way through the book it became apparent that this was an exercise in research rather than storytelling. Clever and well written and researched unfortunately does not make it work reading or listening to. There needs to be something, that catches the imagination, a character that is empathetic, but unfortunately not.
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Within the first few minutes of listening I came to the conclusion that, perhaps, an audiobook is not the best medium for a story which consists primarily of diary entries and chat transcripts. I would argue that there is never more of a waste of a narrators talent than to have them simply read out chat transcripts. This story consists of extracts from the fictional diaries, personal correspondence and online chat transcripts of two Jewish refugees from WW2 Germany (the Dettmans), a young puritan girl on a journey from England to America (Mary), a fictionalised Alan Turing, an imprisoned computer programmer (Stephen) and an artificial intelligence named Mary3 respectively.
I was never enraptured by the story but I was interested in seeing where it was going. I was convinced that if I just kept listening the author would draw the threads together into a coherent and focused conclusion and that I would be left thinking "oh, that was clever". However, after waiting and waiting the book simply finished and I was left wondering what the point had been. Indeed, as there is no real over-arching plot I would really hesitate to call this a "story" at all.
However, it is not without it's merits. Occasionally the author would hit upon something which would cause me to ponder for a while and some of the turns of phrase and passages of prose are quite well written. In particular I was quite taken with the fictionalised portrayal of Turing and with the young puritan girls story (although the latter is left woefully unfinished). Further, the author does a good job in differentiating the writing style of the different characters so that they do not all speak (or write, I suppose) in the same register.
The narration too is a mixed bag. Unfortunately I cannot credit specific narrators as I am unaware who voices whom but I thought the narrator for Turing was particularly impressive and the narrators for the Puritan girl and Stephen were good too. It seems unfair to judge the narrator for Mary3 too harshly as, after-all, it must be hard to make any sort of performance out of chat logs and so she gets a pass for a somewhat stilted narration. However, what I couldn't make sense of was the narration choice for the Dettmans. They are supposed to be German immigrants yet Mr Dettman speaks in what I would describe as a "wise old farmer" voice with no hint of German accent and Mrs Dettman speaks with what seemed to me to be an eastern European (vaguely Slavic) accent rather than a German accent (although it kept slipping).
Overall, while there are no parts to this story that I particularly disliked there aren't many parts that I did enjoy either and I was left feeling that I had wasted my time in listening to it. As such, this is not an audiobook that I can recommend.
P.S. (In the spirit of the Turing sections of the book) I also feel that this book has proved a rule that I have long since suspected. If a novel tries to piggy-back on the success of another book or author in order to sell copies it is not likely to be a great book. For example in this case; "For fans of David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood comes this poignant novel." In this case I think such a comparison would be rather unflattering to Mr Mitchell and Ms Atwood whose works I have enjoyed very much.
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