“Silence can be deafening”
Genre: General adult fiction, dystopian fiction
Similar to: The Handmaid’s Tale, The Power
Could be enjoyed by: Fans of feminist dystopian fiction
Publication date: 23rd August 2018
So, dear readers, you’ve reached the third instalment of my unintentional series of dystopian feminist fiction reviews. I’ve recently talked about the original (The Handmaid’s Tale), the new kid (The Power) and now we have the pretender to the throne: Vox.
Jeanie lives in a near future version of America in a world where women are forced into their “traditional” role of mother and housewife. They’re limited to speak only 100 words per day by a delightful little wrist counter that gives an electric shock to anyone who goes over their daily allowance. Through an unlikely event, Jeanie is given permission to remove her counter, return to the workplace and continue her medical research into the creation of a drug that can repair the speech of someone who has had a stroke. However, as Jeanie finds out more about her role within a much wider team and the sinister ramifications of her research she is forced to decide – should she shut up and play along or make her voice heard?
I’ll be honest – Vox was a bit of a letdown for me. Despite being a very similar premise to The Handmaid’s Tale it was initially fairly well executed (with a few niggles – I’ll come to those in a moment). However, by the time I got to around 70% of the way in, shit got weird. Like crazy coincidence, why would that happen, why is she there, I don’t understand this ending weird.
But first things first – the good bits. I did initially enjoy the premise and I loved how pacey the writing was. At first, I was completely drawn into the story and I loved hearing Jeanie’s internal monologue knowing that she couldn’t vocalise her disagreement with the comments of her male children or husband and the sense of frustration and tension that built. There were some very touching scenes with Jeanie and her daughter, like when they couldn’t say goodbye to each other or when her daughter wins an award at school and Jeanie comes to the horrifying realisation that it’s because she’s not spoken at all throughout the day. Her eldest son is very much a product of the misogynistic regime and as much as I wanted to punch him in the face I loved the edge that this gave to their relationship and how it highlighted Jeanie’s powerlessness to parent without words. However, Jeanie has four children and I felt like her twin boys weren’t really fleshed out enough to be of any consequence – so why were they there?
Unfortunately there was also a number of other things that didn’t sit quite right with me. Throughout the book Jeanie is having an affair and although I could accept the possibility of that happening, it was the reckless way that she went about it that got on my nerves. You’re living in a totalitarian regime where your every word is recorded and your every movement tracked by CCTV and yet you still manage to go to a semi secluded house for regular extra-marital, contraceptive free sex? When the probable punishment is execution? Really?
As the book progressed I became less engaged with the storyline. There was a greater emphasis on the scientific nature of Jeanie’s work that, frankly, became quite boring and I began to feel that as the ending drew nearer things became a little rushed. There were far too many situations where Jeanie seemed to take ridiculous risks and the storyline all seemed a little too convenient (“I know exactly how to find that out – my husband just happens to work with the President! I’m sure he’ll have files that explain everything somewhere in our house! Oh look – there’s my uni friend who I haven’t seen in twenty years! Let’s just turn on an MRI machine for no reason to drown out our conversation – I’m sure that won’t look suspicious on the closely guarded CCTV!” etc. etc.)
Then there was the actual ending itself. Perhaps I’d just got bored, perhaps I’d been a bit bamboozled by the science but I just. Didn’t. Get. It. Then *spoiler alert* there was the super trite “oh, my husband’s out of the picture so now me and my four-kids-who-definitely-won’t-be-scarred-by-all-of-this can be with you, handsome affair guy, and we can all live happily ever after!” Urgh, pleeeeeze .
So, all in all, Vox could have been a great book – it was certainly an interesting premise, had a fantastic start and was initially well written – but it went downhill fast. It felt like a response to an exam question where the student realises half way through that they’re running out of time, so they’d better start tying up loose ends in the fastest, most obvious way possible. Or like the author was, hmmmm, limited on words??? Was it a clever metaphor?
Nah, probably not.
Rating: Three “I messed up my timing but I think I got away with it” out of five.
Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!