Ron Butlin - The Sound of My Voice (1987)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
After writing favourably reviewed yet largely unnoticed novels and poetry for the best part of three decades, 55-year-old Ron Butlin has the power of Irvine Welsh's popularity muscle to thank for his recently acquired and rightful status as one of Scotland's best kept literary secrets. Asked by the Village Voice to write about an unjustly neglected book, Welsh gave The Sound of My Voice the kick up the arse it needed to be brought out of obscurity. Republished by Serpent's Tail in 2002, it garnered good reviews and, equally as vital, higher sales. This wasn't before Butlin had gone through more trouble at the hands of the publishing world with his follow-up Night Visits, which is rumoured to have sold a pitiful 87 copies on its first release. Thankfully, the Butlin renaissance has meant that this book has also reached a wider audience.
Still, why the whole process took so long is a bit of a mystery. Charting the unravelling of a successful biscuit company executive who is barely managing to exist from one drink to the next, Butlin's debut novel is a marvel of restraint. A brilliant and innovative use of second person forces us to empathise with the doomed protagonist Morris Magellan - to almost become him - while simultaneously experiencing unease at our lack of control over what he does.
This mirrors Morris' own experience as he engages in a battle for supremacy over his drinking, his actions and his shame. 'You almost laughed aloud,' Morris says frequently as he convinces himself yet again that he is on top of his life, his game and his colleagues. Laugh a minute, the book is not, yet it's this uncompromising nature and Butlin's unwillingness to have Magellan rescued that makes it so different and so great.
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