Contemporary · Malaysiana

Voice in My Head by Lilian Chan

voicesinmyheadTessa Goh is a young wannabe writer who works as a receptionist in a clinic. The synopsis of the book describes the clinic as a “health clinic”, but from what I gathered in the book it’s more of a cosmetic center. She is described as ambitious but the book has her pretty content toiling away at the clinic and working her way up (without ever reading or writing anything, so why did she want to be a writer?) into a possible management position. She has a self-esteem problem, constantly comparing herself (a “lowly receptionist”) to the upperclass women who are the regular patients of the clinic.

She also has a secret – she could hear other people’s thoughts. Not every single thought, but if the thought was strong enough, Tessa would be able to pick it up. Most of the time the thoughts she hears are negative, which makes Tessa distrust people in general. But then she meets Aran Shankar, who is “rich, intelligent, and good looking.” Also – and this is the most important part – he’s a Datin’s* son.

The two of them hit if off from the beginning, bonding over their love for street food, but then Tessa begins to hear Datin Shankar’s thoughts. Shaken by the mean things she heard, Tessa began to change herself in order to be someone “worthy” of Aran.

The story never did conclude on whether the voices Tessa heard were really other people’s thoughts. And it was hard for me to engage with this book on any level, because the characters were flat and the story reminding me of a Malay drama serial, what with the stress on class difference and the obsession of the Datin in having her son be with someone of a higher class. Tessa Goh is also a kind of Mary Sue, and not of the sort that I enjoy reading. Both Aran and her best friend adore her, because she has some sort of special quality to her that never becomes apparent in the book. She isn’t particularly funny, and if she’s smart she doesn’t show it, and I don’t buy that someone as smart as she’s supposed to be not being able to get a different job. I think there’s nothing wrong being a receptionist, but if she thinks it’s below her, then, well. She’s in KL! I know people who switch jobs every few months here; surely Tessa would be able to find a better fit for her talents. And speaking of her talents, she’s supposedly a brilliant writer, and dreams of winning major awards in the future. And yet… she never writes in the book. She doesn’t blog. She doesn’t scribble in notebooks. She doesn’t submit her stories anywhere. And she doesn’t read, or mention a book at all, in the whole course of this story, which makes her supposed bookishness unbelievable to me. Aran, on the other hand, at least proves his supposed intelligence by doing something with it.

I wasn’t keen on the way Tessa treats her best friend, either. I could believe that she had no idea of her friend’s feelings, since he kept his love to her pretty close to the chest, but it seemed like he had done so much for her, and yet she decides to cut him off entirely because he made the mistake of meeting up with Datin Shankar, who wanted his help to break Tessa and Aran up. I would probably be more sympathetic with Tessa’s decision if her best friend actually agreed with the Datin’s schemes, but all he did was listen, and decline.

Come to think of it, this really is like a Malay drama, so perhaps Malaysians that enjoy those would like this book. As for me, the best thing I could say about it is that I liked the cover enough to pick it up in the first place, and that it didn’t have any glaring typos.

* a Datin is the wife of a Datuk, which is an honorary title in Malaysia, similar to a British Knighthood. Interesting bit of trivia: two famous non-Malaysians have received Datukships before – Datuk Jackie Chan and Datuk Shah Rukh Khan.

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2 thoughts on “Voice in My Head by Lilian Chan

  1. From your review, Tessa sounds like most Malaysian wannabe writers. They talk about being a writer and dream about being famous, but they don’t actually write. I suppose it would be too much to hope that the author is being ironic … haha

    Liked by 1 person

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