Author: Christina Dalcher
Publication Date: 20 August 2018
Publisher: HQ Fiction
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
I have been totally immersed in Vox for the last couple of days and it’s a book that has stayed with me long after the book has been put down. I finished reading late last night and it has still been rolling around in my head. This was one of the most disturbing books that I have read in a while.
The front cover of my copy has a quote from Prima “This book will blow your mind” and I completely agree. There is also a quote from Elle “A petrifying re-imagining of The Handmaid’s Tale” and that is one that I can’t comment on because I haven’t read (or watched) The Handmaid’s Tale.
Vox is a near future dystopian novel that disturbed me in a way that many have not. I think that dystopian is quite a disturbing genre, it’s a genre that looks into the future and re-imagines the world a little – and never in a good way. Vox most definitely does that and I’m not sure if I find it so disturbing because I am one who would be directly affected by the world Dalcher has created or if it’s a more general fear. I also think that it’s not so hard to imagine that this could happen.
The America in which Vox is set hasn’t been hit by some undisclosed bio-weapon, there’s been no war, no sickness, no alien invasion. The America in which Vox is set had an election and the new President took society back centuries using new technologies. It was a move that some saw coming but their voices weren’t loud enough to effect change while everyone else thought it was impossible.
Jean McLellan is a wife and mother of four, now living almost wordlessly to ensure she doesn’t exceed her daily 100 word limit and subject herself to the electric ‘shock’ she will receive if she goes over. The shocks start small but the more you go over the bigger the shocks become.
It wasn’t always like this, less than two years ago she was a leading expert in her field of neurolinguistics. Now she and her daughter wear counters on their wrist, but not the highly interchangeable step counters that are the rage now; the ones we connect to our smartphones that help us reach health targets and can become an extension of our smartphones. The counters Jean and Sophia, and all the females in America, wear are word counters and instead of a happy vibration when the daily limit is reached it’s an electric shock that builds in intensity. Learning to avoid the shocks comes quickly, and seemingly easier to the young who are still learning language.
The spoken word isn’t all that is being limited; it’s also the written word, the signed word, the heard word. Females are being cut-off from language in as many forms as possible. Education is changing and the girls aren’t being given a full education, they are only taught what they will need to know to run a household; back to cooking, sewing, a little gardening and some basic arithmetic.
Vox is a book that just disturbed me on so many levels. The ‘Bible Belt’ of America expanded greatly until an evangelical preacher got ‘big’ enough to get the ear of a presidential candidate and promised he could deliver votes which birthed a partnership that set society on a fast train to the past. Preaching of the sanctity of family, or his version of family anyway. In short order women were stripped of all their independence and their identity. They were removed from the workforce, their passports cancelled, their bank accounts frozen and transferred to their husbands.
I didn’t read Vox as an anti-Christian fearmongering tale, it wasn’t Christians as a whole that engineered this shift in society. I found it to be a tale that cautioned us not to get complacent. Don’t believe that anything is impossible, don’t sit back and hope that someone else will stand up and effect change.
This is a story that explored how easily it can be for a minority to take over when people sit back and do nothing. There is a wondering about whether this is how it happened in other places at other times in history, like Nazi Germany for instance.
Jean McLellan’s eldest son is in his late teens and has been raised in a household of equality with two highly intelligent working parents. He learned to pitch in and help out, it was an expected part of being a family. The Pure Movement tells him that this shouldn’t be his role, it’s the role of the female in the house to do all the household chores. Steven is young and impressionable and easily falls under the spell of the Pure Movement.
For every oppressive movement there is a resistance, history tells us there is always a resistance.
I was captivated, I was disturbed but I was gripped and I did absolutely love this book though I was totally uncomfortable with the contents.
Dr Jean McLellan was a leading expert in the field of neurolinguistics and her research, along with some other leading scientists, was very close to a cure for aphasia in stroke victims. They were nearly ready to be able to restore speech to stroke victims, depending on where the damage was. There was a lot of medical and research information, lots of terminology to get your head around and lots of scary ways that the research could be twisted and put to less admirable uses. (I think I’ve reached my daily word limit…. the one I wanted in that sentence just refuses to come.)
Vox explores many themes relating to identity, oppression, the importance of language and also raises the question of how far you would be willing to go.
I found the character depth to vary, which is understandable because some characters needed to be left a little shady so that the suspense remained. If we know everyone intimately we can’t retain the mystery of the resistance. I did enjoy the character development and the pacing of the story, it certainly had me turning pages when I should have been shutting my eyes. It did wrap up a little too quickly for my liking though, with all the build up I would have liked a little more substance to the wrap-up. Having said that I did really enjoy this book, it sure made me think and it will stay with me for a while I think.
They say on average we speak 16,000 words a day; and I am pretty sure that my children had that done by 10am from the time they were about 4. To think that in Dalcher’s imagined America my daughter would be limited to 100 a day is unfathomable, and from such a young age when the language is developing that would stunt so much. We are left to question how long it would take to make the damage irreparable.
Vox is definitely worth the read, a gripping page turner that I would recommend to everyone. I think it’s an important read for it’s cautionary warning about sitting back when you should be standing up, before it’s too late.
An impressive debut that will have me watching out for more of Christina Dalcher as her career progresses.