Vox (ARC) by Christina Dalcher

Set to release on August 21, 2018, Vox is Christina Dalcher’s stunningly haunting debut novel. Set in a near-future United States in which half the population has been silenced, Vox is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial–this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her. This is just the beginning. Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard. But this is not the end.  For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

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I received an Advance Review Copy of Vox by Christina Dalcher from the wonderful team at Penguin Books Canada, in exchange for an honest review. The Vox package from Penguin Books Canada also included a lovely package of goodies, featured below, which included a Vox tote, buttons, and sticker – super cool!

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When I first received my copy of Vox by Christina Dalcher, I was skeptical. It’s being toted as the next Handmaid’s Tale, and while I am a huge fan of the TV show, I’ll be honest with you – as a book Handmaid’s Tale was not for me. But the more I thought about it, the more and more intrigued I became by the premise of Vox, and eventually, I couldn’t resist picking it up to see if it lived up to the hype. And while the plot fell a bit flat at times, I found that I really quite enjoyed the characters and premise of this book!

“Maybe this is how it happened in Germany with the Nazis, in Bosnia, with the Serbs, in Rwanda with the Hutus. I’ve often wondered about that, how kids can turn into monsters, how they can learn that killing is right and oppression is just, how in one single generation the world can change on its axis into a place that is unrecognizable” – Christina Dalcher, Vox (Note: quote is from an uncorrected proof of the novel, and therefore may be subject to change)

The beginning of this story focuses heavily on Dr. Jean McClellan’s experiences – her current lived ones as a housewife with only 100 words a day, and flashbacks of her experiences leading up to the dissolution of the previous government and the installation of the new, “Pure” government regime. Dr. Jean McClellan, an American linguistic scientist and mother of four, saw all the signs, yet she did nothing – preferring, like many nowadays, to remain a passive bystander to the political and social strife around her. Now, Jean, like all women and girls in the United States, has been fitted with a little “bracelet” which functioned as a word counter. Every day she receives 100 words – every word over spoken through the pain of a harsh electrical shock. Initially, Jean becomes a passive bystander, accepting her fate with chagrin and resentment, wishing there was a way to escape her oppressors. This premise both terrified me and utterly captivated my attention. As I was reading, I found myself sub-consciously trying to count my words, wondering how I could possibly manage on only 100 words every 24 hours.

Other characters include Jean’s husband, Patrick, who is the science adviser to the president, and for the majority of the novel, woefully obnoxious, useless, and general unpleasant to read about – because he simply does nothing, even going so far as to imply that he agrees with the new system of oppression. Jean’s children, female friends, and secret lover, Lorenzo, are also feature prominently throughout the novel, both in the current timeline and her flashbacks to a time before she lost her voice.

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While Jean keeps her chin up and never completely bows to her oppressors, I often felt that her plot line was of a lesser importance to the undercurrent that seemingly controlled her every move – the secret rebellion against the oppressive nature of the current government. This somewhat undermines the power of Jean’s story line, especially since several of the key players in this rebellion were men. However, this definitely added tension and action to the plot, so I cannot complete fault Dalcher for it.

Speaking of the rebellion – it is probably my greatest complaint in Vox. It spent most of the book in the background, meriting a mention here of there – until all of the sudden it was very much in the forefront; and from there, the resolution of the book was a whirlwind of partially explained plots and plans, wrapping up (seemingly) within pages.

Despite this, Vox does an excellent job highlighting the importance of speech, of language in personal and political freedom, particularly for women. I thoroughly enjoyed Vox, and would highly recommend it to fans of the genre (a.k.a. feminist and/or dystopian novels), as the characters are well-developed and intriguing, and the premise is both terrifying and utterly captivating (4/5).

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