The Power, by Naomi Alderman
The Power, by Naomi Alderman
In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there's a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power - they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.
This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.
“One of them says, ‘Why did they do it?’
And the other answers, ‘Because they could.’
That is the only answer there ever is.”
Naomi Alderman, in The Power
What would the world look like were women the physically dominant gender?
That is the question at the heart of The Power, a unique story with an intriguing premise and some unsettling scenes. This will leave you thinking.
Roxy had not had an easy life in her 14 years and had learnt to never run from a fight. But this fight was different. She felt different, weird. She felt an instinct to do something different. She didn’t understand it, but somehow knew what to do. And she “cuppeth the lightening in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.”
Roxy was “one of the youngest, and one of the first.”
Allie, on the other side of the world, had been practicing, waiting for the right time to use her new power to escape the cruel hands of her foster parents. With no home and no family, and guided only by the voice of her mother, Allie believed the remarkable control she had over her power would lead her to great things.
And Jocelyn too was discovering her power, experimenting, along with nearly all other 15-year-old girls. But Jocelyn was not like the others. Her power would fluctuate, and some days she had none at all. “Flat battery” was one of the less offensive names she would be called.
We follow these three young women and Tunde, a young man and aspiring journalist, as the power awoke all over the world. As the power awoke in individual women, it awoke a generation of women. It gave rise to chaos, violence, riots. It gave rise to an entire movement and a revolution.
And it gave rise to a generation of men afraid to walk the streets alone.
The Power really was an intriguing work of speculative fiction.
The power dynamic between the genders was the predominate theme and was powerfully demonstrated. As women became the physically stronger sex, society changed at every level. We see men frightened to walk the streets alone, vulnerable to even a single woman passing by on the footpath. We see men harassed for the simple fact they are men. We see men unable to drive, travel or merely exist without the correct documentation and guardianship from a woman. And we see a rape culture where men are the victims and women, the perpetrators. As unsettling these images are and however unrealistic they may seem, the most powerful message to come from this book is this is reality. This is reality were the gender roles reversed. This is reality for the day-to-day life of women around the world.
We see also the way power can be used differently by those in leadership positions. No matter the gender, some will use power for good, and some for evil. Despite the utopic ideal one could imagine were the leaders of the world’s governments women, the more intuitively nurturing gender, this book lays bare the hard truth. Women are vulnerable to be seduced by the dark side of power, to bully, to segregate communities, to be drunk on revenge and to put their own desires before common good.
This book comments on the treatment of those who are different, which does reflect a sad reality. The Power portrays a population where to have the power is the new norm for women. Young women who are in the minority, those who never develop the power, who have weak or fluctuating power, or those who don’t want to use their power, are singled out, isolated and bullied. There are cases also of anomalous men, those with chromosomal abnormalities who find themselves with the power and are treated unfavourable by both men and women.
The thought-provoking points this book raised was the highlight for me.
There were some problems. The narrative was presented as a historical fiction novel based on archeological research by an author named Neil Armon. Preceding and following Neil’s manuscript titled The Power were letters between Neil and Naomi, who was providing feedback. Throughout the novel were illustrations of archeological finds that Neil included to support his research. I found the addition of Neil, the letters and the illustrations unnecessary; they didn’t add to the narrative for me and only provided a distraction. I must admit though, the final sentence in the last letter of the book did see me chuckling for it’s candour and thinking ‘go girl!’
I did find the book too long. The first half had me intrigued, as the concept was novel and the ideas it presented were fresh. However the second half left me a little bored. We saw scenes repeated over and over which demonstrated the same idea, that women were physically powerful, men were vulnerable and women were capable of brutal violence against men. I found this repetition did not help the narrative move forwards and only served to lose my interest. I would have liked to see this idea taken further with added complexity. I also found the characters were not as developed as I would like. Whilst I did see growth in the characters early in the novel, once they had the power and started on their new path in life they didn’t show enough internal conflict or reflection for me.
This book is worth reading and I do recommend it if you find the concept interesting. It does present thought-provoking ideas that would generate worthwhile discussion. I do think it would be particularly useful for men to read and discuss, as it would provide a new perspective and I would hope a better understanding for the position of women. I am never surprised when I find myself having to explain to men why I don’t go for a run around the streets after dark. This book may help.
Have you read The Power? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I know this book has been loved by many, so I may have an unpopular opinion so let’s discuss in the comments below!
If you are interested in reading The Power, you can purchase it on The Book Depository here!*
The Power has been shortlisted for The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017. I am reading and reviewing each of the six shortlisted books, and will then predict the winner before the announcement on June 7!
*I use the Book Depository for all my online book shopping needs and highly recommend them. I am affiliated with the Book Depository, so if you purchase a book through my links, I will receive a (very) small commission that will go towards more book reviews for you! I greatly appreciate your consideration!
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