Doctor Jean McClellan is stunned when the decision is made: women will no longer be allowed to speak more than 100 words per day. It’s just a small part of a broader movement, of course. Women are no longer to have jobs, girls at school are no longer taught to read or write, half of the population are essentially to become voiceless. But Jean isn’t going to give up without a fight.
Vox is the first novel by Christina Dalcher and, while it has a lot to recommend it, I have to confess I thought it was a bit of a let-down. The premise is fascinating—although I ended up having some issues even with that which I’ll come to in a bit—and the writing is solid, but I thought the execution of the plot was fundamentally lacking.
Many of the characters felt poorly drawn, and conflicts between them were difficult to feel invested in. I did find the daughter’s response to the competition at school faintly horrifying, as intended, but like many of the problems that arose throughout the course of the novel it seemed to be solved incredibly easily. Jean’s sons accept the new world order immediately and, particularly in the case of the eldest son, with some glee. Which, I don’t know, maybe many adolescent boys would be purely thrilled if the women and girls around them stopped talking? But the lack of nuance in their response to the situation made them fundamentally uninteresting as characters from my point of view.
I found it harder to pin down my feelings about the story’s protagonist. She was interesting, and constantly acting to move the plot along, which I enjoyed. She also had a habit of taking stupid risks, which felt like they ought to come back and cause more problems for her than they did, and there were times when her righteous fury and totally understandable resentment of her husband felt like they were taking up narrative space where more complicated and interesting emotions might go. Having said that, I don’t want to diminish the necessity of outrage (and just plain old rage) in the face of the kinds of injustices Jean is witness to in this story.
A major issue that I kept running up against while reading was that I didn’t personally feel like the sequence of events that lead to the counters being put on felt realistic. Dalcher went to some effort to describe the chain of events, the slippery slope, that lead to women being made into second class citizens, but every time the story pulled back to look at that progression it just didn’t ring true for me. It’s hard to put my finger one exactly why, in part it felt like the timescale was unrealistic, in part I think the whole agenda just lacked the subtlety that I believe would be required to get buy-in across the country like that. Even when the story was focused on Jean and her family, I found it hard to set aside my skepticism around the broader issues.
Towards the end it takes a turn into action territory, and without wanting to spoil the ending I have to say I was left completely bewildered by the last few chapters. A lot of things happened, all very quickly, and I didn’t feel like there was adequate time given for events after the much more slow-burn style of the majority of the book. In short, it was kind of a mess, relying too heavily on newly-introduced ideas to make for a satisfying conclusion to the rest of the novel.
Almost everything about Vox felt oversimplified; the characters and their relationships to each other, the ideologies at play and the answers to each and every conflict that arose throughout the story. I actually don’t think the book was bad so much as it was underdeveloped, but I think it was a deeply flawed exploration of a complicated idea, and it was frustrating to read while feeling like the concept deserved so much better.
This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on LovelyAudiobooks.info