The Silicon Tongue
By Beryl Fletcher
Spinifex Press, 1996
Reviewed by Patricia Brien
New Zealand author Beryl Fletcher's The Silicon Tongue is the story of four generations of women separated by circumstance and united by technology. It starts in England with Alice, the illegitimate child of a scullery maid and her employer's son, and follows her unromantic path to New Zealand, where the story unfolds.
Fletcher deals with so many situations which may arise in a woman's life — illegitimate birth, adoption, rape, poverty, wealth, ageing — and yet she manages to keep the narrative flowing and believable.
The importance of the oral history in female experience cannot be underestimated in The Silicon Tongue. It is Alice, the matriarch, whose mysterious storytelling creates a suitable environment for the reunion of the characters separated by silence. Fortunately, Alice has a memory retrieval system in her head which could easily rival a computer's.
Several characters are responsible for the narration. This technique enables Fletcher to illustrate the complexities of perception, that is, one situation — multiple realities. The non-linear structure of the narrative reflects the very nature of cyberspace and yet the story deals very much with "real characters and real situations".
One character, however, who is pure "cyberchic" is Pixel. She rarely leaves her room, or computer terminal for that matter, seeming to exist almost entirely on microchips (she even finds the constant need for food an annoyance). She is the product of biological interference and is barely emotional and strangely human.
"Christ was born in a stable. I was conceived along with cows and sheep and other unmentionables. Does that make me a special woman, the daughter of a new god?"
The Silicon Tongue is a captivating read as it weaves and dodges its way through the lives of the female characters past and present. The positive influence of technology in the narrative is an interesting slant to a good ol' story about four generations of women and the events which determine their destinies. Fletcher displays her obvious skill as both feminist novelist and storyteller. n
Beryl Fletcher is touring Australia in September for talks and readings, including at the Deakin University Politics of Cyberfeminism conference September 21-22. Check pages 29-31 for details of other Sydney and Melbourne events.