The Little Voice is a novel that examines what it is to live life as a good citizen, abiding by the rules set by parents and teachers in our early years. Joss Sheldon’s story looks at the psychology behind this kind of lifestyle, and the little voices that can guide, or distract, us along the way.
During his childhood, Yew Shodkin’s little voice comes in the form of an egot, a small creature that lives in his imagination. Its voice is rarely positive, instead it’s like a devil on Yew’s shoulder, pleading for him to rebel.
“‘You think that a little creature lives in your brain?’ he finally asked. ‘And that creature tells you what to do?'”
Yew’s childhood is a constant battle between the egot’s evil intentions and the pull of his parents and teachers to put him on the right path. As with all good stories, evil is vanquished and Yew’s life is set straight.
As Yew struggles with the egot, his battle is quirky and engaging, but as the child gets stronger and more resilient, the egot’s role diminishes until it eventually disappears. The egot’s defeat not only changes Yew’s life, but the whole tone of the book. While the writing remains strong, and Sheldon’s descriptions are often a delight, the story begins to lose its way.
“It happened on one of those confusing days where the weather doesn’t know if it’s coming or going; swapping opulent horizons for ubiquitous fog; flicking between exultant sunshine and furious clouds.”
There’s nothing particular to hate about the story, but for long stretches there’s nothing to love either. There’s no pull to the book and no hook strong enough to keep the pages turning.
Sheldon uses those pages to tell his reader that a life without risk or mischief is dull and unfulfilling, but it’s hard to tell the story of an unremarkable life in a way that makes someone want to read it, no matter how beautiful your language is.
“Miss Grey’s face was a portrait of disappointment; with art nouveau cheeks and minimalist eyes.”
Mixed in with these skillfully crafted sections, however, are a series of seemingly random but persistent quotes from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. His name crops up more than 30 times in just 172 pages. His wisdom may make sense at some points, but more often than not it does little to add to the story and by the end his name brings nothing but dissatisfaction.
It’s clear that Sheldon has immense talent as a writer, but this isn’t the story that he’ll be remembered for. After a strong start, it wavered and then fell. The defeat of the egot almost signalled the death of the story, but it’s clear that the author has huge promise. With two other books already under his belt, there’s plenty more time to get acquainted with Sheldon’s work, and hopefully many more titles yet to come.