Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “They Whisper” as Want to Read:
They Whisper
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

They Whisper

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  288 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
Butler's narrator is a 40-year-old man who lives in an ongoing internal landscape populated by all the many women he has loved. In fact, as he relives his moments of intimacy with them, Ira often speaks in the voices of these women. A profound and erotic examination of human sexuality.
Hardcover, 333 pages
Published January 1st 1994 by Henry Holt & Company
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about They Whisper, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about They Whisper

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Jan 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: vietnam, u-s-lit
Paul Simon once famously wrote:

If you took all the girls I knew when I was single/ put them all together for one night/you know they'd never match my sweet imagination....

Every man in America knows exactly what he meant by that crisp understatement. Except maybe Robert Olen Butler, a man who as far as I can tell has no Kodachrome in him. Written in the first-person singular, this has an autobiographical quality. The result is creepy and not very good.
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rereading
I ADORE this book. This is not the first time I've reread it. Robert Olen Butler, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, takes us on alyrical journey into one man's erotic consciousness--a trip I'm happy to take over and over over again. When I feel a little too savage in my own mind, a little too brutal, I read it to restore a little tenderness in my own soul. A man's internal life -- full of memories of women, women he's loved, women he's only glanced bri ...more
Sep 09, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: peacecorps
I can't do "stream of consciousness" writing. I need punctuation. And paragraphs.
Christopher Roth
His best book that I've read. A weird, honest, and deceptively simple—actually philosophically very complex—exploration of the male psyche. Here you get the whole Freudian/Sartrean problem of using sex and fear of death to fill the hole that modernism leaves where religion once was, twinned with a parallel exploration of the, or an, analogous female approach to the same problem. But it is not as pat as I make it sound here. Like Updike, it will seem misogynistic at first glance and is not to eve ...more
Robert Wechsler
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-lit
An elegiac novel about the women the first-person narrator has “loved,” from a woman wordlessly passed on a train to his wife. Butler makes this fresh idea work most of the time, and the great range of the relationships (many of them in Vietnam during wartime) helps. The narrator’s marriage acts something like the novel’s core, with all the other women in his life spinning around it. There is some prose that I found excessive, and at times I grew tired of the wife and, sadly, of some of the repe ...more
Oct 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
After enjoying Butler's "Hell," I decided to go back and read some of his earlier work. The stream-of-consciousness style and completely internally driven plot may be off-putting to some, but it's delicious for a Faulkner lover like myself. There are few reading experiences I treasure more than immersing myself in the mind of a character. Butler masterfully takes the reader deep inside his main character, Ira Holloway, and into the minds of the many women he has loved.

The book jacket describes t
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book was recommended to me by my psychologist. I can never stop thanking her. I have shared it with a number of women through the years, and after reading the reviews here I am not as disappointed as I had been that few of them "got it".

I was comforted by this book, it was nice to know that I am not totally unique in my introspection, expectations, and desires. It's not for everyone, but if you're interested in an alternative view of male sexuality it is wonderful.
Jun 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
thought every man should read it at least once in their life. I read it with the male side of me. amazing how he managed to quote such details. even the simplest of the things we ignore every now and then. although the book is not with me anymore, I love it!
Mirvan  Ereon
I read this book several years ago. I was attracted to its blurb about sex so I decided to read it without knowing more. There are boring times with this book but there are a lot of beautiful poetic passages that made me smile. It is a books for people who had had many lovers in their lives and these lovers still whisper to them in their daydreams, their thoughts or in times when one is bored or has nothing else to do. We miss them, and when we do, they whisper like faint memories wanting to gli ...more
Nov 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
After 20 years, "They Whisper" by Robert Olen Butler, is still tickling my brain. A sensual language narrates directly into your ear with graphic details of a former Vietnam vet whose memory slips back-n-forth, flashing a burning desire for these former exotic lovers. Finding a perfect woman to match his taste is a task, but the miracle turns into a nightmare with the birth of a child. A playful wife strips her sexuality, becoming a church lady. The ending leaves you on the cliff, but I welcome ...more
Tom Engebretson
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
I love Robin Olen Butler, but could not get into this one. I enjoyed the Granite City (Wabash) beginning….but as it progressed my sentiments were "Don't fall in love with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder".
Sep 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Reading this book is like reading a long lyrical poem.
Jan 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Very interesting take on love. I think the ending was the best part :)
Benjamin Chandler
I bought this book almost a year ago and I've read it off and on since then.

The prose is quite lovely, more prose-poems than anything else. But that's really the only thing going for this too-long book about an ultimately very shallow and empty man.

I actually really enjoyed the book at first. The first couple of pages even reminded me of my own writing (but much more refined) but after a while, the book's charm started to lose me, and I put it down for months at a time. I recently decided to ju
Della Scott
Jul 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
Usually I don't finish books if I dont'like them that much, but decided to make an exception for this. Since I've been hearing a lot about Robert Olen Butler for along time, I just wanted to be able to say I'd read something of his.

The book has no plot to speak of and isn't broken up into chapters. It jumps freely from the present to points in the past. I suppose that you could call it stream of consciousness, because it's reflections the protagonist has about women and sex(although it may be th
Sep 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
I have absolutely no idea how I feel about this book or Butler's work in general. At times, his elongated prose is almost hypnotic and takes you with it and, at times, it's long-winded and self indulgent. Yeah, it was hot, really hot, but the overall tone was dark and awkward and was like taking a cold shower. There is no question that Butler is a talented writer, in fact, he's better than most authors working today, but he's never made me feel good about finishing one of his books. He's made me ...more
Nov 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: american, erotica
This book sucked baseball bats. The writing is self-indulgent male-centered sexual fantasy in a very creepy way. Literary pornography. The women he wrote about might as well have been well-designed made-to-order blowup dolls. It was very depressing to read and to realize that men at their worst are programmed to think this way. Utterly narcissistic, misogynistic, and for those two reasons, repulsive. I read this many years ago for a book club and was so traumatized, I still can't rid myself of t ...more
Mar 27, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sexuality
Well, I fought and battled to get through this one and I have to admit that I'm glad I did. I eventually adjusted to the run-on sentences, the massive paragraphs, and the lack of chaptering. I glossed over the titular whispers in the second half or so of the novel. They still seem more like a gimmick to me, like Butler was more concerned with being unique and standing out than writing a quality novel. That's disappointing, because he is a talented writer. Anyway, the ending is abrupt. Certain qu ...more
Mander Pander
Dec 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013-books, book-club
I'd say this would actually be 2.5 stars?

I found a lot of the imagery to be really detailed and cool, but pretty much all of the characters were vile enough to actually impede my ability to enjoy the book, and the following tended to make me feel very uncomfortable and creeped out:
-virtually everything the narrator thought
-virtually everything the narrator's wife said
-virtually everything the narrator believed his wife was thinking

It made the book a little difficult.
Rian Nejar
Jun 09, 2015 rated it did not like it
I could not get past even the early portion of this eerie, pseudo-erotic, memoir-like narrative from a Pulitzer winner. There seemed, to me, a distinct lack of recognition of beauty in intimacy in the author's writing; it seemed replaced instead with grotesque imagination and erotic, fetish-like fantasies of a disturbed mind. After much struggle, I handed it over to the charity used-books store attached to a local library, cautioning its storekeepers on the book's contents.
Sep 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this one was interesting by how deep it went, how much we were exploring a character's relation to other characters. It didn't seem to go very wide, but went a long way down. The structure and pacing is definitely a little nonlinear, but there's some interesting things here if you don't get too hung up on the unusual narrative movement.
Oct 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
I love anything by Robert Olen Butler but I found I could only read "They Whisper" in random bursts when I was in a certain mood. Not a one-sitting read. More a slow, bewildering wander through the confused mind of a grown man who remains at the mercy of adolescent-level hormones and the woman who gets to deal (or not) with it.
Mom Taxi Julie
I got this book in a bag of books from a coworker some time back. Of course the cover intrigued me so I kept it to read instead of instantly putting it on or So I finally read it and wow what a strange book. Guess it was a little insight to some men's minds about how they view a woman's body.
Apr 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: loved-it
This is a book about a man who truly loves and is obsessed with women. He narrates the twists and turns of his life, including a stint in Vietnam and a tragic marriage to a mentally ill woman, all through the filter of his obsession.
Shannon Burton
Jul 15, 2010 rated it liked it
a good book i could only read in doses, but finished quickly. stream of conscience style, a young man's story of a difficult marriage via a highly sexual landscape filled with all the women he has loved.

Laurel Deloria
Feb 01, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: boring
In an attempt to make sense of his disappointing life, a thirty-five-year-old man explores his sexual history with the woman of his childhood fantasies, a series of Vietnamese prostitutes, a stranger, and his jealous wife
Jenna Allen
its not that this book wasnt interesting. but i just couldnt get through it, i guess i didnt feel like it was going anywhere. its funny because i would recommend it to people who like this kinda stuff. but i just cant read it myself..
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
In French "Étrange murmure" translated by Isabelle Reinharez.
Nov 03, 2015 rated it did not like it
Written as a stream of consciousness wet-dream. Creepy.
Shane F
tpb but this cover
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories
  • Vigilare (Vigilare, #1)
  • Abortion Arcade
  • Rice
  • Orosa-Nakpil, Malate (A Filipino Novel)
  • Evolution of Insanity
  • Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog
  • The Weeping Empress
  • Serve the People!
  • Nette
  • The Pack: Retribution (The Pack #2)
  • The Genius of Language: Fifteen Writers Reflect on Their Mother Tongue
  • Boy Culture
  • The Assault
  • Black Sunlight
  • The Dancing Mind
  • Necrophilia Variations
  • Living to Tell
“I’ll never stop believing it: Robert Olen Butler is the best living American writer, period.”
– Jeff Guinn, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Robert Olen Butler has published sixteen novels—The Alleys of Eden, Sun Dogs, Countrymen of Bones, On Distant Ground, Wabash, The Deuce, They Whisper, The Deep Green Sea, Mr. Spaceman, Fair Warning, Hell, A Small Hotel, The Hot Country, The Star of Istanbul, The Empir
More about Robert Olen Butler...

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »

“If all the artists you loved changed you, they'd hack you up in little piece and you'd never get back together. That, or you'd end up loving only one artist forever.” 2 likes
More quotes…