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.
Convicted of gross indecency with another male in 1952, Turing was sentenced to a regimen of punitive hormonal injection. He grew breasts, survived the year-long ordeal, but died in 1954. Verdict: suicide. Alec Pryor – the book’s avatar for Turing – is caught between fascination and horror as he becomes a new version of himself.
The novel asks: what does great bodily change (torture) do to a person’s mind? The bulk of the book is a sequence of dreams and letters; these are bookended by extracts from a fictional journal that show a brilliant intellect struggling to come to terms with the effects of that change. It further asks: how does a mathematician, so used to removing personal bias from analysis – the sine qua non of scientific method – fit the personal experience of pain/joy/love back into a neutral explanatory scheme?
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“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.”
“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.”
“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.”