Published: 21st August 2018
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Trigger warnings: Discrimination, strong sexual references
Jean McClellan spends her time in almost complete silence, limited to just one hundred words a day. Any more, and a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins.
Now the new government is in power, everything has changed. But only if you’re a woman.
Almost overnight, bank accounts are frozen, passports are taken away and seventy million women lose their jobs. Even more terrifyingly, young girls are no longer taught to read or write.
For herself, her daughter, and for every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice. This is only the beginning…
As a concept, this book deserves all the acclaim. It is a dystopia that creates a frightening and oppressive landscape, which draws immediate comparisons to the likes of Margaret Atwood. However, the execution in this particular instance left so much to be desired, and sadly it failed to captivate me as much as it should.
There are some extremely dark themes at play here. It is set in a United States where men have an absolute tyrannical control over the rest of society, punishing all forms of diversity. Females are not allowed to speak more than 100 words in a day, or else they receive an increasingly painful electric charge from the bracelet they wear around their wrists.
This terrifying idea leads to book’s most effective moments, seen through the eyes of the main character Jean, who was a leading clinical scientist before the regime took hold. Her daughter Sonia can hardly say a word through fear of the consequences, while her teenage son Steven is taken in by the deranged ideals of those in power. The sense of hopelessness everyone feels is evident in the writing, and as such the world-building is very good.
It is a shame therefore that I failed to connect with numerous other aspects of the story. The most obvious example is Jean herself. For the narrator of a dystopia, who is being subjected to such cruelty at the hands of the administration, she is surprisingly unlikable to the extent that her POV became almost frustrating to read. Sub-plots such as a love interest, got in the way of the central plotline.
The first-person narration had its good points, such as the way it captures Jean’s simmering resentment and occasional quick-wittedness. There are also moments where the writing had what I would describe as a spontaneous quality to it, but that did lead to the story going off on tangents and containing too many flashbacks.
Along with Jean, I failed to seriously connect with any of the characters except for Sonia, whose enforced silence put the horror of the concept into perspective. Jean’s husband Patrick and her research colleagues Lorenzo and Lin are all given some depth, but at the same time were not especially interesting to read about.
I actually did like the science element, which was truly fascinating and did pique my interest. The ending was also quite powerful, although some of the plot’s resolution did feel ever so slightly rushed and lacking the intricacy it possibly deserved. There were 80 chapters in total, all of which were relatively short.
Overall, this one has to go down as a disappointment. With a concept like this, it could have been so much more, but an unlikable main character and a scarcely engaging writing style let it down. There some very powerful moments in the book and strong world-building, but not enough to make it a great read.
Christina Dalcher has a doctorate in theoretical linguistics, a fact made unsurprising by the research portrayed in VOX. She has taught at universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates.
Having had short stories printed in numerous journals worldwide, Dalcher began VOX, which was released as her debut novel in 2018. Her next book, Master Class, will be out in summer 2020.
A book with an excellent concept, but lacking in overall execution. The characters and the resolution were disappointing for me, but it did have its high points, too.
My rating: ⭐⭐.5