Speechless (US Edition)

By Tom Lanoye

Speechless is a touching memoir by Tom Lanoye about his mother’s final years. After a stroke, she—a butcher’s wife and an obsessive amateur actress—loses her ability to speak. Slowly but inevitably she deteriorates, less and less able to communicate with her loved ones.
In Speechless, Tom Lanoye takes stock of his colourful childhood, his struggle with love and his role as an author. He writes of conflict with his beloved diva of a mother and the illness she so bravely fights.…
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Literary novel




Paul Vincent



Original Title


Year of publication


Date of publication 6 November 2018


'Tour de force: a splendid, tragic novel.' —Le Monde

'The best Lanoye has ever written.' —De Tijd

'A playful, touching, and verbally extravagant memoir-novel of grief.' —Kirkus Reviews'Heart-wrenching and hilarious.' —De Morgen

About the author

Tom Lanoye

Tom Lanoye (Belgium) is an award-winning, highly acclaimed novelist, poet and playwright. He is a best-selling author and makes regular appearances at major European festivals. His novel Fortunate Slaves (2013) sold over 50,000 copies and was shortlisted for both the Libris Literature Prize and the AKO Literature Prize 2014. His bestseller Speechless (2009) was awarded several major prizes and has been voted one of the most popular 'new classics' in Flemish literature. He lives in Antwerp and Capetown. Photo: © Tessa Posthuma de Boer

Book Club Questions

Book Club Questions

  1. Did it take time to get into reading the book or were you immediately drawn into the story? Why or why not?
  2. Do you see a connection between Josée’s character and the novel’s style?
  3. What do you think of the novel drifting between thought, memory, and emotional tirade? May it reflect the process of remembering very intimate and painful things?
  4. What do you think of Lanoye’s “beginning at the end,” granting the reader the knowledge that Josée will lose her voice and die? Would you have preferred a more classical novel structure with tensions and mysteries, or do you find this choice fitting?
  5. Do you feel like you got to know Josée? Did she come across as larger-than-life, or was this perhaps a trick Lanoye played on the reader, to pay homage to his mother’s aspirations?
  6. Are the family and village dynamics recognizable? Is there any place or family that you have known where/for whom these events might have taken place?
  7. Did the hooting-tooting style allow for moments of vulnerable emotion? By which passages were you moved, if you were at all?
  8. Were there any nice twists of phrases, similes, or thoughts you kept with you after closing the book?
  9. Do you feel like a biography of Lanoye’s father could be as interesting, if written by Lanoye?
  10. Did you feel any sympathy for the lady living upstairs?
  11. Were there any plot points that were left unresolved or not resolved to your satisfaction? Was plot coherence your main focus while reading?
  12. After having finished this book, were you sad you had? Do you feel like reading more of Lanoye’s work, or other books in the same style?