By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

By the Book #17 – Vox by Christina Dalcher

Sometimes, a book isn't as good as you hoped it would be. Turns out there's still lots to be learned from it, however. Want to know which insights I gained from Christina Dalcher's Vox? Read on!

This post is about the dystopian novel Vox by Christina Dalcher. Before we start, I want to tell you something: it took me a long time to finish it. While reading, I had a thousand-and-one ideas on what I wanted to write about, and it would be so eloquent and clever. I would present such clear and well-formulated arguments about this novel that everyone reading this post would be so impressed by what I had to say. Well, that didn’t work out. I started over at least four times, but none of them felt right. I realised I was trying too hard. But then it struck me: what if I compared my struggles to Vox? Read on if you want to find out what I noticed about this novel – and about myself!

Vox is about cognitive linguist Jean (also the profession of author Christina Dalcher), who is part of a society in which women can only speak one hundred words a day. If they exceed that number, they receive electric shocks which increase in power the more they speak. One day, Jean is asked to help the President, because his brother was in an accident, can’t talk anymore, and, being an expert in this subject, Jean is the only person who can help him speak again. Now she’s helping the government, she realises she has the opportunity to destroy it from within.

The premise of Vox is a perfect example of dystopian fiction. It ticks all the boxes: the plot, the characters, the style, and the political message are exactly what you’d expect in a dystopian novel – and I was looking forward to reading it. Vox, however, was a quite disappointing read: because Dalcher carefully coloured inside the lines of the genre, I could see the ending coming from miles away, and the so-called surprising character plot twists were everything but. Still determined to finish reading Vox, I decided to focus on the technicalities of the novel, instead of reading it just for fun.

Have you ever read a book simply to analyse it? I must admit it was rather fun. It allowed me to really investigate the choices the author had made, instead of being taken away to a different time and place. I wasn’t emotionally involved, I didn’t sympathise with the characters, and I didn’t become frustrated when things didn’t make sense or were so far-fetched that I would normally roll my eyes at them. Quite the contrary: it is surprisingly liberating to get through a novel without being bothered by these things that usually make reading so much fun.

When I was fifteen years old, I knew I wanted to study English literature. I don’t really know why, apart from the fact that I loved reading, and that I loved England (even though I had never been there). It’s still the best decision I have ever made. I learned so much there: about the history of English literature, about stylistics, about how many different ways there are to analyse books, and how literature has evolved over the years.

While reading Vox, I was reminded of all these things that I learned at university, and I happily applied them to this novel. I noticed how Christina Dalcher used a formula to write her novel (I’m currently working on a post about this formula – keep an eye out for it!). She did her research, found out which elements a dystopian novel needs, and applied these to her novel. It shows.

Using a formula is like cooking a dinner. Every part of the recipe needs to work, otherwise you might ruin everything. This is, unfortunately, what happened in Vox. Dalcher must have overlooked some things, or worked too hastily, because some things just failed to make any sense. For instance, the characters felt all wrong; they seemed to be just there to move the plot forward instead of being sympathetic or even realistic. The society she created could have been interesting, and the message could have been powerful, but it all felt a bit childish and incomplete. Some things happened out of the blue, for no particular reason, while other things should have happened but didn’t. But the worst part was how on earth Jean managed to tell her story in a country in which women were not allowed to not speak, in which sign language was forbidden, and all sorts of writing materials were confiscated. I simply could not enjoy this novel anymore after I discovered this major plot hole.

Studying literature might have turned me into a snob. It might have ruined my ability to read for the sake of being entertained. But I like to think it has made me more aware of what literature is, and why books matter. Stripped down to the bare basics, I think (and I am by no means trying to convince you that it’s actually this simple) there are two reasons: entertainment, and sharing a message. Christina Dalcher clearly had the latter in mind while writing Vox; it seems to be a direct attack on former President Trump’s politics, the influence of religion, and the notion that women still aren’t equal to men – but she kept hammering at it in such a clumsy way that her message failed to impress. The tagline of Vox is: “Silence can be deafening.” Unfortunately, Dalcher never realised the opposite can be true, too.

You might have realised by now that this post is not about Vox, but about why I write. I don’t write reviews. Instead, I like to share with you how books can influence you. Vox was a perfect read for me, because it forced me to think about how I was going to discuss it in a blog post, and it made me think about what I want to share with you, my audience. This post is about literature in general, about how it works, and why it matters. This post is about me.

What did you think of Vox? Do you feel the same way about reading? Let me know in the comments! Also, make sure to follow me for more book musings!

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