The Last Language
From Jennifer duBois, “one of a handful of living American novelists who can comprehend both the long arc of history and the minute details that animate it” (Karan Mahajan) and “a writer of thrilling psychological precision” (Justin Torres), comes a gripping new novel.
In 2001, a few months after the death of her husband, Angela is devastated when she is ejected from her graduate program in linguistics at Harvard University. Soon after, she suffers a miscarriage. Spinning and raw, and with suppressed unresolved trauma, the young widow and her four-year-old child move into her mother’s house.
Trained with an understanding of spoken language as the essential foundation of thought, Angela finds underpaid work at the Center, a fledgling organization utilizing an experimental therapy aimed at helping nonspeaking patients with motor impairments. Through the Center, Angela begins to work closely with Sam, a twenty-eight-year-old patient who has been confined to his bedroom for most of his life. Sam quickly takes to the technology—and so does Angela. Her once deeply philosophical interest in language comes vividly to life through her interactions with Sam. Angela becomes intensely drawn to him, and their relationship soon turns intimate.
When Sam’s family discovers their relationship, they intervene and bring charges. As Angela tells her story from prison in the form of an unrepentant plea, we are plunged into the inner workings of her mind as she rejects all else in pursuit of a more profound understanding of language and humanity. As the sole narrator and perspective giver, Angela’s understanding pushes and pulls us into ambiguity, and a Nabokovian hall of mirrors emerges as she tumbles deeper and deeper into obsession.
Provocative and profound in its exploration of the basis of humanity, this is an extraordinary novel from one of our most acclaimed contemporary writers.
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Praise and Prizes
“duBois expertly unspools Angela’s journey to the dock, as the unreliable narrator’s mental state comes increasingly into question [. . .] A sharp, beguiling tale of madness, this is metafiction done right.”
“A thematic companion to Zoë Heller's Notes on a Scandal and Francine Prose's Blue Angel, author duBois (The Spectators, 2019) tackles questions of communication, consent, and humanity head-on. [ . . .] Tautly paced, tackling both grandiose theories of linguistics and the everyday realities of caretaking, The Last Language is hard to put down.”
“duBois walks the high wire with Angela’s audacious and unreliable narration, leaving room for readers to wonder how much of Angela’s telling is true and to what degree she’s manipulated Sam. This clever novel lingers long after the final page.”
“[Jennifer duBois] deftly applies her own fictional spin to the wheel of culture. [. . .] The Last Language, follows a linguistics expert as she forms a relationship with a nonspeaking patient using technology. A master of words writing about language and what it means for relationships and humanity? Count me in.”
“The Last Language is an utterly compelling puzzle of linguistics, perspective, and some version of love. [. . .] a smart intellectual riddle and a mystery with the highest of stakes. Readers will find it unforgettable.”
“In her brilliant novel The Last Language, Jennifer duBois deftly examines the very foundation of consciousness while rendering an exquisitely multilayered love story. Equal parts grace and wit, compassion and erudition, this marvel of a book frequently astonishes with its piercing insight. A provocative, devastating masterpiece.”
“The Last Language explores how language can both create our reality and utterly fail to capture it. As we fall deeply into the mind of the narrator, with her brilliance, humor, and humanity, duBois masterfully allows us to live in the ambiguities that the characters fiercely reject. A hauntingly beautiful, darkly comic, and unforgettable novel.”
“The Last Language left me heartbroken and shaken—adjectives that I reserve for some of my favorite novels. In an emotionally fraught narrative with a solid nod to Humbert Humbert, Angela, our imprisoned narrator, tells the tale of her facilitated communication work with twenty-eight-year-old Sam, with detours and asides that bring forth the book’s many complex ethical, philosophical, and linguistic questions. I will be thinking about this book for a long, long time.”
“A novel of razor-sharp intelligence and devastating emotional power, The Last Language asks how and whether we can ever truly understand each other. DuBois’s fierce and witty writing illuminates every page as her characters explore the possibilities and limits of human communication, empathy, and love.”
“The Last Language is, depending on how you read it, a tragic romance, a manic chronicle of self-deception, or a knife fight with Nabokov—in any case it’s a masterpiece. No one writes with more care and less pity than Jennifer duBois, whose depth of knowledge and insight into other people’s minds is boundless.”
“The Last Language is an absorbing, propulsive, compelling read, a breathless confession full of nuanced complexities surrounding morality and communication and power and love. I was drawn immediately into this book and raced through it, completely absorbed in Angela and Sam’s story, right to the finish line. I mourned it when it was over. Another stunner from Jennifer duBois.”