Book Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Full disclosure: I am a long-time Margaret Atwood fan, so this review is not totally unbiased!

Vox is a story about women finding their voice both metaphorically and literally. In a dystopian near future the government have limited women to 100 words per day, with a bracelet that provides an electric shock if this limit is breached. Women are relegated to the "traditional" roles with men taking over every other aspect. Women are booted out of their jobs and returned to the home. Some men, like our MC's husband, are sympathetic but most seem to generally agree with this new way. Children are indoctrinated at school into this new philosophy, called Pure.

Our main character, Jean, is a former professor of linguistics with a wealth of research behind her in helping stroke victims rediscover language. This becomes majorly important towards the back end of the novel although it isn't so much hinted at during the rest of the novel as has neon signs. She's also the mother of 4 kids and so has been relegated to the stay at home mother role. 3 of these children are boys, with one completely swallowing the Pure philosophy taught by schools in an interesting conflict between mother and son. The other child is a daughter, a key motivator in breaking Jean's perceived apathy, as her daughter is also limited to 100 words a day. Rather than frustrating her daughter as it does Jean, her daughter speaks as little as possible, effectively becoming mute.

Jean is a difficult character to love for me. She dislikes her husband for not fighting against the regime however there's a twist to this and one that she doesn't seem all that bothered by. She doesn't like the new regime but is mostly apathetic towards it. When her daughter stops talking she's bothered but again there's a lot of apathy contained in the character. Jean finally does make a move towards rebellion but only when the scales are very clearly tipped. In one way this fits my generation - those who decry everything but do very little action towards it - in another way it makes Jean difficult to understand or love.

She's also undergoing a choice between her husband or the Italian man she had an affair with, now working back at her research lab. Jean is offered the choice to stay or leave and even this choice is decided for her by the events of the novel tied in with her husband *spoilers she says in a River Song voice* It leaves you wondering whether if left to her own devices, she would have continued in this apathetic manner forever. Whereas Offred is openly oppositional, Jean tends to be sneaky about it and only moves when she is almost forced into it.

The world building is excellent however it borrows heavily from The Handmaids Tale and relies upon you have an understanding of the previous book. I feel that the world building would be lacking for someone who didn't have prior knowledge of Atwood's work. I did like the flashbacks explaining how the current system came to be. The speed at which it happens is quite horrifying and the way in which it's done is something that I can easily see replicated in our society.

Vox reads as an updated Handmaids Tale for our current society with a less loveable protagonist for me. Still worth a read but the original remains the best.