Critic's Corner: Review of Tom Lanoye's Speechless

Translated into English to be released stateside in November, Tom Lanoye’s latest book Speechless sold over 135,000 copies in Belgium and Holland alone.

To speak honestly about a book on speech, specifically the loss of it in Lanoye’s late mother Josee, isn’t just easy. Lanoye makes it an honor. This book reaches up and grabs you from the first page, it holds your face close and tells you that you’re safe to be just as weird as you need to, to listen, and to find empathy in yourself for Josee and her family. At points, Lanoye tells his mother’s story, and at points he tells his own. In both scenarios the reader is ushered into a small party, seated with a strong drink, and finds themselves more than willing to hear a yarn.

Except for Lanoye this isn’t any yarn, it’s life and death. It’s the realization that without his mother’s speech, he’d never have become the celebrated author he is today. Taking that spoon means taking the sweet with the bitter, with the downright monstrous. Lanoye helps us see that loving someone and telling their story is a courageous, but persnickety thing to do. In Speechless it’s done right though, so rest assured that this book will serve you as both cautionary tale and humorous memoir. It’s no one thing, it’s everything.

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