Book Review: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE by Ron Butlin

4.6/5.0 stars

“You are thirty-four years old and already two-thirds destroyed.” This is not just the measuring rod of today’s alcohol consumption, but the yardstick of your life.

Ron Butlin’s The Sound of My Voice (Canongate, 1987) is another text in my self-study plan for second person point of view. In this short novel, the “you” is protagonist Morris Magellan, an alcoholic whose life is unraveling, perhaps irreparably.


Following the death of his cold and distant father, Magellan dogpaddles through life as disappointing husband, father of two “accusations,” and junior executive at a biscuit company.

Drinks connect the moments of each day, accompanied by a background of classical music played too loudly. While numbly trying to hold it together, Magellan manages to alienate his co-dependent wife, frighten the children, offend his secretary, and jeopardize his position. Without the drink, he’s drowning in mud or hallucinating about snow.

Butlin’s choice of second person POV is perfect for the task, making you (the reader, that is) feel nervous, guilty, and detached all at once, as if you’re watching through a hidden camera lodged in the bridge of Magellan’s smeary eyeglasses the embarrassing minute-by-minute footage of someone too drunk to realize he’s failing at every turn.

Although The Sound of My Voice is not as excruciating as Grimsley’s Winter Birds, Butlin’s short book is self-conscious and uncomfortable, tense and poignant, with anguish made more powerful by his keen skill of understatement. Butlin delivers meaning and emotion in his spare prose like a lorry filled completely with the perfect number of biscuit boxes; no more will fit, and nothing jostles. This book is nigh perfect in its execution, and makes a lot more sense than Daniel Gunn’s over-literary Almost You (1994).

I recommend Butlin’s The Sound of My Voice. It’s a fine study in narrative and an example of a well-executed novel.