This is one of the books I’ve heard most about in the past six months, since it was nominated for (and later won, much to the surprise of many, myself included) the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.
This book is part dystopian fantasy, part sociological speculation. It brings to life a theoretical question many who study gender have asked themselves for decades: Is it only physical power that is to blame for violence and victimization, and if the power dynamics of victims (usually women) and predators (usually men) were reversed,would the results be any different?
In this book, this is exactly what happens. Instead of men being dominant due to their larger size and muscle mass, a latent power is awoken in women and girls the world over that suddenly gives them the ability to send electrical currents through aggressors, rendering men’s physical power obsolete.
It’s an intriguing concept. I loved that Alderman was able to find a way to explore it that felt as complex and messy as a change of that magnitude would. She also chose to present the story through the perspectives of several very different characters – mostly girls, but one young man who bore witness to power changing hands and all the violence and chaos that accompanied the shift.
I understand why this book is as widely discussed as it is – there is a lot here to engage with and the concept is awesome. But I did feel like the idea was far superior to the execution. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a good book – it most certainly was – but it was only good, not great.
Perhaps the fault is my own for allowing the award buzz to make my expectations far too high going into it. I suspect that had I picked this book up blind, I would have been less critical of it. But there were places in the book where I felt that the characters could have used a bit more development or the plot was a little thin or the setting and construct should have had more complexity. Of course you can’t expect a book this far from reality to ring true to every reader. For some this may be exactly how they imagine the world would look if women held the power. But for me, it didn’t quite fit with my perceptions of gender and power dynamics. This made it hard for me to suspend disbelief and really lose myself in the story, because I didn’t entirely buy into its premise.
That said, I don’t know if any book tackling this particular theme with such a complete departure from how society functions today (and throughout documented history in most parts of the world) could do so seamlessly. I definitely applaud Alderman’s guts in taking it on, and I think she did a fair job of it.
I think this is a book worth reading, particularly for those interested in gender politics and power dynamics, if for no other reason than that it would lead to very lively debate and discussion. I would have loved to read this book for a Women’s Studies course in university, because I think there’s a lot of material here for exploration. If you are looking for a structurally flawless book or beautiful prose, this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you are interested in the topic or enjoy dystopian fiction and are looking for a new twist on the theme, this is a great book to pick up.
This was a particularly hard book to write a review of. I’m glad I read it, but at the same time I don’t feel any attachment to it, nor any emotional investment in the characters I met within its covers. If it hadn’t been such a hot topic in the book world this year, I doubt I would have picked it up. I’d be interested to hear from those of you who have read it, particularly those who enjoyed it more than I did. I’d love to hear what stood out to you, what issues you had with it (if any) and what you took away from it. Definitely an interesting reading experience, even if only for how conflicted it left me feeling!
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. – Goodreads
Book Title: The Power
Author: Naomi Alderman
Published By: Viking
Genre: Literary Fiction, Dystopian, Gender
Date Read: August 5-16, 2017