Book Review – Q by Christina Dalcher

books, reviews

Rating: 2 out of 5.

As we’ve already discussed, I’m a petty and stubborn person. I stayed up way too late on the 31st August to make sure that I finished this damn book before the month was over. After all, I had already included it in my August Reading Wrap-Up and I didn’t want to miss my book count of 10. Thankfully, I did manage it and I didn’t end up being too late a night. The question is, was the book worth it? I wasn’t exactly expecting a great deal from this book because I really hadn’t thought much of Vox. When I wrote my review of Christina Dalcher’s previous novel, I discussed the rise of feminist dystopia and how bored I was with it. I guess, on the plus side, Dalcher has taken a broader approach. Women don’t exactly have it easy in this one but at least it wasn’t another literary world specifically created to torture women into submission.

Christina Dalcher took inspiration from literary history with Vox, her pale imitation The Handmaid’s Tale. For her follow up novel, she took inspiration from actual history. Specifically, the shady part of America’s past that inspired the Nazis. There is a long history of eugenics on American soil and one that can still be seen in modern history. The aim was to improve the genetic quality of American citizens, but it was more about preserving the right kind of people. It was a practice that targeted those people who were deemed unfit for society, which meant poor, disabled, mentally ill, and non-white people.

In Q, Christina Dalcher imagines a world in which intelligence is the key to success. Children are constantly tested to see if they deserve a top-notch education or not. The kids who keep their Q rating above an 8, will be allowed to remain in the top of second-tier schools. Those that fail are sent away to bottom level schools. These children are prepared for a life of menial jobs and no prospects. It’s a world that teacher Elena Fairchild had completely bought into until it became clear that her second daughter would struggle to make the grade.

Elena’s first daughter, Anne, was everything the system needed her to be. She was beautiful, intelligent, and competitive. Freddie was never able to match up. She was an anxious child and always panicked about her monthly testing. When Freddie’s score finally drops below 8, Elena decides to fail her teacher’s test so she can follow her child. Elena soon realises that the government has been lying and that there is something much darker going on. Can she escape and get her daughter to safety?

The problem with a lot of dystopian literature is that it requires a huge suspension of disbelief to buy into the concept. Now, I don’t argue that there is a history of this sort of thing but the system that Dalcher has created doesn’t ring true at all. Mostly because she doesn’t explain it very well. You always know that an author is on thin ice when they spend more time referencing 90s pop culture than they do fleshing out their new world. This isn’t a fully realised society and it doesn’t have a strong enough history. As such, the whole system starts to fall apart.

For a start, Q just glosses over the whole “how did people allow this to happen?” details. I mean the closest we get to an answer is that false “frog in slowly boiling water” thing. That’s not adequate context, especially because the frog would have jumped out way before the new education system was introduced. I guess the novel does briefly touch upon fears that people do have but it seems too easy. This novel is so unoriginal that I’m shocked none of the characters picked up on it sooner. Luckily for Dalcher, she wrote them with enough stupidity that even a twist this obvious surprised them.

There’s no nice way to say this but Q is so clumsily written. I made so many notes that were just me saying “really???” to the author. And what is with the format? It’s like a bad TV drama. We have flashback chapters that have been inspired by random events at convenient times. It’s so cheesy and frustrating. There had to be a more organic way of transitioning into flashback chapters than just going “oh, that reminds me…” And another bonus for Dalcher that her protagonist had extremely specific memory lapses that caused her to remember things at just the right moment for their story. After all, why would you bother putting effort into naturally creating mystery and tension when you can just shove it in your readers face at the necessary time?

This book lacks subtlety, realism and, most importantly, it lacked decent writing. There are so many phrases that just stick out as badly written. At one-point Elena describes her parents as having “a major crush on” their grandchildren and I wanted to scream. Who is this written for? It feels like a book for teenagers mixed with a history textbook. On the one hand, there is no depth in the world, the story, or the characters. On the other, she tries to condense a lot of heavy history into a small space. None of it works. It’s trying to do too much and it’s clear that Dalcher got a bit too carried away with her history lesson. There is so much shoehorned in and it never really adds to anything.

Dalcher was trying to do something worthwhile here and showcase some parts of American history that some people didn’t know. It’s not an unworthy cause but it’s just so badly executed. Although, I will say that the end of this novel was much better than Vox. It was one of the few things that I approved of when reading. I mean it was still clumsy and romanticised, but it was a start.

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