Not so far-fetched dysphoria
We are called as women to keep silent and to be under obedience.”
Once more I am very late to the party on this one with no real excuse because it’s been on my “must read” list for ages, basically since I read The Power by Christina Dalcher. Actually these two make great companions with their focus on women in a dystopian future.
If someone had told me I could bring down the president, the Pure Movement … in a week’s time I wouldn’t believe them. But I wouldn’t argue. I wouldn’t say a think.
I’ve become a women of very few words”
So begins the great, and terrifying, dystopian novel that is VOX by Christina Dalcher.
Set in America in the not too distant future Jean McClellan spends most of her time in silence. That is because she, and every woman and girl in the country, has been limited to 100 words a day. The punishment for breaking this rule? A thousand volts of electricity administered via the wrist counter every female must wear.
The government, with a president who bares a striking resemblance to Trump (more on that later), freezes bank accounts, takes passports, robs women of their employment and takes away all access to literature. Women cannot communicate, not through sign language or the written word. Their only option is deafening silence.
Jean, an eminent scientist before these radical changes, is given the opportunity to free herself, her daughter and potentially all women of the shackles of this imposed silence. However, it will come at a huge personal cost.
Pretty compelling synopsis right? And the whole novel is compelling with non-stop action and suspense. You can almost picture the Hollywood adaptation.
This story feels so relevant in our Me Too era where women are both given a platform to speak about the injustice, abuse and inequality they suffer but are also seeing some governments clamp down on their rights (the changes to abortion laws in some states and cuts to Planned Parenthood in America).
What makes this tale so scary is that it is obviously set in a future not too far from our own. The narrator Jean references South Park, social media and Pokemon Go!. Perhaps this will age this book prematurely but as a reader in 2019 it feels all too familiar and close.
The “villains” of this story are depicted in an almost cartoonish manner, from an over-zealous and sexist preacher, to a stealthy ex- secret service agent and a presidential puppet influenced by his family. The latter is not the only pointed reference to the current President of the United States – the commander and chief proclaims that he wishes to “Make America Moral again.”
Comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale are inevitable, and no doubt VOX benefited from the popularity and (general zeitgeist) surrounding the TV adaptation of Atwood’s masterpiece of feminsit dystopia, The references to modern culture and the parody of a controversial (and without doubt misogynistic) leader of the free world are similar to Atwood’s decision to use real examples of restrictions placed upon women throughout history.
That is not to say that VOX is purely a femist and political statement (although it largely is). The novel is a traditional thriller with a love story thrown in. The moments between Jean and her family, particularly her daughter, are touching. The narrative moves along at a pace which will easily keep you engaged and reading “just one more chapter.”
Ciritisms? Perhaps the ending felt a little rushed and contrived. The characters, at times, seemed a little slow to realise what was happening. I also felt that Dalcher could have been braver and made this a much longer novel with more detail on the Pure movement. Perhaps she wanted to leave some scope to make a prequel or sequel who knows.
Perhaps the overall message was delivered in a slightly heavy handed manner (basically if you don’t take action now the rights of women will slowly begin to disappear) but it does get the point across. Dalcher is not subtle in her message in the same way that Margret Atwood is in A Handmaid’s Tale but sometimes you don’t want subtle!
Final Thoughts: This book did not disappoint. The hype around it was most definitely justified. I mentioned it earlier but the most terrifying thing for me is that, much like The Handmaid’s Tale, this doesn’t seem like an impossibility. Living in a time when the right seems to be having a resurgence and the state attempting to exert more control of women’s bodies this version of the future feels closer than it’s ever been.