Sunday, 21 January 2018

Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

We've all heard tales of women using their bodies as weapons, but what if they really were deadly? What if Women were something to be feared? Naomi Alderman asks these questions and more in The Power.


It's not hard to see why this book has attracted so much attention. In an age that many are describing as a 'fourth wave' of feminism, The Power plays out an alternative scenario to modern history, one that tears down the patriarchal constructs we know all too well. It was awarded the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction last year and is by all accounts a critically acclaimed best seller.

So what's it all about?

The book centres around 4 main characters, switching perspectives every few chapters. Young girls are suddenly beginning to find that they can awaken an almost supernatural ability to inflict extreme pain on others using a kind of electrical current, generated from a previously undiscovered gland called a 'skein'. Men everywhere are terrified, and the power is beginning to spread across the globe.

The novel is presented as a historical account, book-ended by letters between its male author and his female editor. There are even diagrams of historical artifacts between chapters - read the descriptions, they're pretty clever. As each section of the book passes, we inch closer to a cataclysmic event (which I won't go into detail about for spoilers' sake). As the power provides women with the means to take control of society and governments attempt to regulate its use, underground religious movements spring up across the globe, a drug lord's daughter finds ways to take advantage of the new order, and a male journalist finds himself helplessly trapped in a country on the verge of collapse.

As much as it pains me to quote cheesy superhero films in a book review, "with great power comes great responsibility". As previously oppressed groups of women begin to realise they can easily manipulate, injure and kill the men that once kept them in chains, the tables are turned and things get out of hand. Thousands of years if sexism and misogyny are reversed in the course of only a few years, resulting in sheer chaos. After years of lying dormant, the power is difficult to contain.

The Power begins as a kind of feminist sci-fi/fantasy tale, but as the pace intensifies (and rarely lets up for more than a beat) things turn violent, and at times graphic. It morphs into a bold fable against the dangers of oppression. Let it shock you - it's meant to.

Naomi Alderman's writing is page-turning. It's action-packed enough to push the story along at lightning pace, but at times is also beautifully descriptive, slowing down occasionally to let the message sink in. It's also packed with humour and sarcasm, which balances out the seriousness and makes it a truly entertaining read. The perspectives used each have distinct personalities and voices, and Alderman uses them with finesse to imply powerful observations about human nature and, of course, gender.

Like most, I expected to read The Power and come away feeling empowered. I definitely enjoyed (in an almost sadistic way) seeing women take control in situations where they would otherwise have been powerless. But also felt as though Alderman was warning us that it will take difficult and by all accounts extraordinary events to truly chance the state of play. This is more than just a revenge story.

I urge you all (whether you're a woman or not) to read this book, if only so I can talk at length with more people about it. This is a book that forces you to hold a mirror up to the current state of play  and to question the unwritten rules of modern society. How acceptable would the atrocious acts of oppression committed against women every day in the present day be if the roles were suddenly reversed?
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