Review: Vox

**** (4 out of 5 stars!)

WHY I CHOSE IT: My friend lent Vox to me with a warning – don’t read this around men! As it came highly recommended, I was keen to read it straight away.

THE PLOT: Vox is a dystopia set in the United States in the near future. As part of the Pure Blue christian movement, women have been silenced. Each woman and girl has been issued a bracelet that limits them to 100 words a day. The protagonist, Dr Jean McCellan, is a bio-linguist who has been working on a serum to cure stroke victims of their speech impediments. Although Jean was forced to give up her job when the new regime took over, her specialist skills are required when the President’s brother suffers an accident that leaves his speech altered. However, as Jean starts work to cure him, she starts to realise that the regime’s motives for creating the cure might be more sinister than first appears.

MY RATING: Vox is a well-written novel with a great concept. The central theme explores the result of political apathy. Jean frequently looks back at her life and wonders how she’s ended up in this position. She was never one to protest or take interest in politics, feeling like her immediate concerns were too important, but now her rights are taken away she regrets her political apathy and her former decisions seem trivial.

I particularly liked the supporting female characters. Simone is a black woman and until her arrival in the story, I’d accepted that this was a white story. I didn’t expect race to feature and thought that it would be ignored, like in most dystopian novels. The acknowledgement that people of colour would be particularly vulnerable in the new regime was refreshing. Similarly, Jackie is a politically active lesbian (or possibly bi or pan sexual) who is a good mirror for Jean, and the oppression of LGBT people in the dystopian world was interesting and something that’s often not acknowledged in other dystopia.

My main criticism is that the dystopian regime doesn’t feel consistent or realistic.

1. Although there are cameras everywhere, they don’t seem to be present in key places. For example, when Jean and her colleague Lin first enter the room where they are supposed to work (before being taken to the lab) they speak freely in a government building, which you would expect to be bugged. Identifying these little inconsistencies took me out of the narrative, which spoiled it a bit.

2. The premise is too realistic to be true. No one would have written a dystopia about Donald Trump becoming US President fifteen years ago because it wouldn’t have seemed plausible – even though it’s happened in real life. Similarly, the extent and method of control that the new regime has doesn’t feel plausible as the United States has changed so drastically in short amount of time (the novel seems to take place five to ten years in the future). My friend pointed out that we could envision Fitbits and Apple Watches controlling our words, which was a fair point, but I still struggled to believe in the world the author, Christina Dalcher, created. This is often frustrating for writers but it is something I’ve come across in a lot of writing courses and I feel authors should be mindful of this common minefield.

3. The antagonist is too black and white. Carl Corbin, the religious zealot behind the Pure Blue movement seems to be the quintessential nasty guy. There’s no sympathy or nuance to his character, which makes the persistent threat in the shadows of the novel a bit hollow. I think it would have been better if his point of view or backstory gave some credible rationale or catalyst for his political and religious beliefs. For example, in The Handmaids Tale the drastically declining birthrate is a device that adds menace to the Commander by making his aims understandable.

4. Finally, there were some convenient plot jumps as the novel climaxed, such as Jean’s ability to subdue a ‘bad’ character when she was threatened. It’s hard to review without spoilers, but how was the government building emptied so quickly given their weak ploy and lack of resources?

Overall, this is a good book and I’d recommend it. I’ve only pointed out so many criticisms because it’s a fascinating novel to analyse. So, read it for yourself and let me know if you agree on social media @aminasbookshelf