THE SUNDAY REVIEW | THE POWER – NAOMI ALDERMAN

 

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
Series: No
Edition: Paperback
Published By: Viking
Released: 2016
Genre: Literary Fiction, Dystopian, Gender
Pages: 340
Date Read: August 5-16, 2017
Rating: 6/10

7 thoughts on “THE SUNDAY REVIEW | THE POWER – NAOMI ALDERMAN

  1. Sarah J.

    This sounds like a really interesting novel. I’ve heard it mentioned a couple times, but had no idea what it was about. May have to check this one out. Wonderful review!

    Reply
    1. Rain City Reads Post author

      Thank you! I have been trying to figure out what I wanted to say about this one for months now, and finally just decided to call it done! It is a really intriguing premise. I definitely think that if the idea appeals to you, it’s worth trying just for that. I also feel like it’s a book that will be received differently by different readers. Partially based on the expectations you go into it with, partly based on your views on gender and society, and partly depending on what you really need from a reading experience in order for it to make a big impression (characters, plot, flow etc.). I definitely wouldn’t discourage anyone from at least giving it a try. If nothing else, it is unique!

      Reply
  2. Susie | Novel Visits

    I absolutely loved The Power. I found it a fresh take on what indeed could be the reality if tables were turned. I also really liked the multiple character perspectives and the opening/closing of her book. I actually listened to this and the narration was so fantastic it added a whole other dimension to The Power. I will also add that I went in with no expectations.

    Reply
    1. Rain City Reads Post author

      I agree on the fresh take = I think that’s the thing I DID enjoy the most in this book – I haven’t seen this done to death, and I didn’t know what to expect. The structure was really interesting. I agree on the multiple perspectives – I’ve seen other reviewers say they actually wished there were even more of them! It needed different viewpoints because it was such a premise with such far-reaching consequences. I also liked that one of the characters we heard from was male (in fact, his sections were some of the best in my opinion). The book within a book structure was interesting, but I almost wished she’d taken that a little further. I rarely say this, but perhaps the book could have done with being a bit longer, because there was just so much packed into it! I haven’t heard anyone’s reviews of the audio version before, so I hadn’t really thought about how the experience of the book would differ as an audiobook. But it sounds like it lent itself well to that format. I’m trying to get into listening to audiobooks but still fairly new to them. Maybe one day I’ll listen to a couple of chapters of this one just to get a sense for how it translates, as you’ve made me curious! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your perspective on the book. It’s really interesting to hear your take, particularly given that you went into it blind and used a different format!

      Reply
    1. Rain City Reads Post author

      Yes, I felt the same way – part of why I picked it up quickly before I kind of lost interest. I think a big part of what left me disappointed was that the premise was so fascinating, but I had expected a book that was the whole package based on it having won the Bailey’s Prize. Normally a book with a strong premise and interesting exploration of it is enough for me. But because of all the accolades I entered this book expecting the strong premise, but also writing that had good flow, emotional impact, and excellent character development. So basically it’s the Bailey’s fault!

      Reply

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