VOX – Nicholson Baker – Book Review

Vox is the story of two voices, his and hers: two strangers who, having met on a telephone chat-line, switch to a private, one-on-one connection – and find it impossible to hang up. Literate, humorous, erotic, Vox is a classic of bedtime reading.

There are many things – many intimate things – to talk about. Not jobs or old lovers or favourite films (nothing that could be described as the normal stuff of a normal conversation) but only, exclusively, the stuff that a normal conversation never allows.


What people think about when they are alone in the dark confines of their bed (or, for that matter, in the brightly lit photocopy room of a deserted office). Or the moments – reading a book, watching a video, taking a shower – when the mind wanders and cannot be stopped…

These voices – his and hers, these strangers brought together by the anonymous workings of a transcontinental communications technology – are young and self-aware and relentless in their determination to discuss everything. And I mean everything.

There is this segment at the start of the book where he is talking about Tinker Bell (Disney’s Peter Pan). See excerpt below:

“And she’s tiny, she’s a tiny suburbanite, she’s about five inches tall.

This insubstantial, magical, cutely Walt Disneyish woman. But then this thing happens. She pauses in mid-air and she looks down at herself, and she’s got quite small breasts – ”

“I thought you didn’t like that word.”

“You’re right, but sometimes it seems right. Actually, most of the time it’s the right word. Anyway, she’s got quite small breasts but quite large little hips and large little thighs, ans she’s wearing this tiny little outfit that’s torn or jaggedly cut and barely covers her, and she looks down at herself, a lovely little pouty face, and she puts her hands on her hips as if to measure them, and she shakes her head sadly – too wide, too wide, Oh, that got me hot. This tiny sprite with big hips. And then a second later she gets caught in a dresser drawer among a lot of sewing things and she tries to fly out the keyhole but – nope, her hips are too wide, she gets stuck!”

“Sounds sizzling hot.”

This back-and-forward continues in a delightful crescendo and all I wish, as a reader, is for them to meet. They click so well, even if their only discussion matter is the physical and the erotic, fantasies of the most private kind.

But what are their fantasies really all that fantastic?

What kind of novel is Vox? Literate and contemporary and intensely erotic. It is the most dangerous book about safe sex you’ll find. And I must say, it outranked 50 Shades of Gray in my books for tantalizing scenes.


Nicholson Baker writes with the heart. I’ve had conversations like this. You’ve had conversations like this. Whether or not they tended to the erotic doesn’t matter, the point is: we’ve all spoken to another person that we’ve been interested in, and they’ve returned the interest, and we know the way we talk and what we talk about.

This novel perfectly captures this, and by the end of it, I felt utterly sad that these two, imperfect, beautiful, interesting and sexual characters were just that…characters. Never have I felt so cheated before, or so thankful that I had been, if only for a moment, able to glimpse into the minds of these two extraordinarily ordinary people, through one simple phone conversation.

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About the author

Nicholson Baker2 cr. Jerry BauerNicholson Baker was born in New York in 1957. He is the author of eight novels, including The Mezzanine, Vox and Room Temperature, all published by Granta Books, and five non-fiction works, including a book about John Updike, U & I, and Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, for which he won the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award.

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