VOX: What would you say with 100 words?

VOX by Christina Dalcher is an incredible, eerily realistic depiction of modern American society. I am terrified by the ideas in this book, not least because of the Marie Claire article, published in the week that I was reading it, about stay-at-home daughters and Christian extremism in America. But this is what made it such an excellent narrative at the same time, because this is not a dystopian reality that you could never see coming; it is just an extreme example of the lengths people could choose to go to to protect their ideals and voices. VOX by Christina Dalcher will be published by HarperCollins on 21 August, 2018.

The story
VOX by Christina Dalcher is a near-future dystopian novel told from the one perspective (HUZZAH!) of Jean McClellan, an achieved scientist silenced by the evils of modern society. In Jean’s world, all American females have counters on their wrists set to 100 words per day. If they speak more than this, an electric volt will shoot through their body, increasing the voltage for every extra word spoken. This has been brought in by a Trump-esque government led by Christian extremists, who practically silenced all women in their country overnight. Women are not allowed to read or learn anything other than skills that will make them good wives. They have been dismissed from their jobs, until Jean is called back to her laboratory with old colleagues to create a cure for the president’s afflicted brother. How will she handle this new responsibility and the freedom of having her counter removed? And is this job as simple as it appears?

My praise for VOX…
VOX is a great novel because it is sharp and intelligent. Dalcher manages to deliver her message in less than 350 pages, making it an impressively rare read, in that she creates a dystopian world out of an existing world, provides well-developed and still developing characters who I rooted for, all while packing in some harsh messages and stamping some strong feminist manifestos throughout. She sticks to a few, simple messages which will chill you to the bone.
The key messages that I took from this book included women’s use of their own voices. Dalcher packs in a punch with Jackie’s character, who we have all known and shrugged off at least once in our lives before realising that she is speaking about important things. Dalcher encourages women to keep fighting for what we want and need and to not allow ourselves to be oppressed by men, or anybody who thinks they are superior. Another message I took is that religious extremism can be insanely dangerous and terrifying. If allowed power, religious extremists will be the ones saying ‘jump’ while we all murmur ‘how high?’ in zombie states. Basing the story on Christianity is a bold move, and potentially problematic, but I do not see the focus on this as many Christian readers appear to. Having been brought up Christian, I see this novel as a warning more of not following every belief in one culture or religion to the letter, and to make your own choices about which sections you will follow.
VOX also has some interesting characters. I loved that Jean was not a perfect wife and mother, defying her husband and battling with which child to protect. Steven is a particularly great character, showing how blind faithful innocence can be developed into a zombie follower if groomed in this manner. Patrick and Lorenzo represent the two kinds of men that all women must choose between: the safe, but submissive option, or the man who will fight for you beyond belief but may put you in danger in doing so. The mixture of men and women characters in this novel who represented different ways of dealing with adverse situations was excellent. I loved Jackie’s foolhardy nature, Morgan’s constant appraisal of the Pure movement, which made him so easy to hate. I do wish that they had shown more normal conversations between some of the Christian extremists, or the people who were embracing the culture to see through their eyes why they might be succumbing to the oppression.
Finally, I really enjoyed that this was a novel more based on fact, logic and scientific study. Having expert doctors working in a laboratory, and the general idea of creating a cure for an illness while at the same time attempting to start a rebellious movement made this a gripping novel, packed with clever conversation and logical character decisions. It also meant that I gained a further understanding of the nature of the dystopia Dalcher had created and could immerse myself in it more wholly.

Overall, I think that VOX by Christina Dalcher is a Purely excellent novel. It is witty and compelling, whilst also considering some of America’s biggest problems and one extreme way in which they could develop given the chance. I would recommend to all people who consider themselves as somebody who doesn’t have anything important to say, for feminists (male and female), lovers of dramatic dystopian fiction and for any person out there who believes that their voice is more important than somebody else’s because of a protected characteristic. Thank you so much Christina Dalcher, and the publicity team at HarperCollins for my proof copy of VOX in exchange for an honest review.

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