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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Thursday, 11 January 2018

Budapest Diaries - Day Two


So, I left it a little longer than intended to continue my account of our trip to Budapest. I became a bit of a couch potato over Christmas (which was bliss) and then I contracted a cold-flu-plague hybrid virus that's only now exorcising itself from my body, so let's leave that there and move swiftly on now that we're back in the swing of things. Here's what we got up to on day two of our Budapest city break.

The Thermal Baths

I am now a firm believer than you cannot visit Budapest without indulging in the local tradition of heading to an outdoor (or underground) thermal bath for a good soak and a steam. On the morning of our second day we headed up to perhaps the most well known, the Szechenyi baths. Built in 1913, the huge but ornate yellow building has some serious Wes Anderson vibes going on and is consequently not hard to locate once you get out of the metro.

Sitting around in warm water with the locals might not be to everyone's taste, but personally I enjoyed it. It was a quite morning without too many tourists around, just a few locals. It was about 16 degrees outdoors so it did feel odd to walk out in a swimming costume, but I wasn't freezing either. We booked online through this website - although you don't strictly have to we wanted to make sure we didn't get caught in a queue if it was busy.

There are pools of different temperatures, with the warmest around 40 degrees centigrade. This was my favourite as it felt like a very hot bath. You can feel your pores opening and muscles relaxing as you step in. There are also medicinal baths that are prescribed by Hungarian doctors, as well as traditional spa treatments available indoors. I can see why the locals think this stuff is good for you because I hadn't felt that relaxed in months.

The Best Donuts in Town


I knew we'd be digging into a traditional chimney cake or two while in Budapest, but another delicious find on our travels was The Box Donut. There are at least two of these bakeries in the city, with a variety of these signature square donuts available. They were bloody delicious, and to be quite honest with you they didn't actually make it into their box before we'd scoffed the lot. I'd highly recommend swinging by. If you fancy trying to get some home with you then they fit snugly (some might say deliberately) inside a small box. I'd recommend the Creme Brulee flavour. The smoothies are good, too.

The Shoes on the Danube


We decided to visit this particular part of the Danube after walking around the impressive parliament buildings. If you know the story of what happened on the Danube during the Second World War then you will also know how deeply moving it is to walk along this riverside memorial. This blog provides some more details on what happened in the city during that time period. The Shoes on the Danube is one of many monuments to Hungary's bloody modern history that you'll find across Budapest. More on that later. 

It was sad to see that even to this day, members of the Jewish faith come to leave flowers, candles and ribbons in the 60 pairs of iron shoes tacked to the river's edge. While many WWII monuments are grand and impressive, the shoes are life-size and hard to spot until you're upon them. I think that gives them even more of an impact.

The Unexpected Journey


We left our second afternoon free since we weren't sure what the weather might do. We walked across from the Shoes on the Danube to a nearby boat stop (covered by our 72hr travel passes) and decided to hitch a ride to Margaret Island. 

The island is a piece of land in between the Buda and Pest sides of the river, and while it is mainly home to a hotel and casino, the vast park grounds are open to the public. An old water tower at the centre of the island keeps the Wes Anderson vibes going, and there's also an old church, rose gardens and a huge singing water fountain. Although each area of Budapest is beautiful in its own way, the island was so unique.


The best way to see the island is to rent a tandem bike or covered bike (the one's that the Chuckle Brothers used to ride?!). For a small fee you can easily cycle around the whole thing in 30-60 minutes, depending on whether or not you stop at one of the many bars/stalls for a drink and a Langos. These deep fried bread snacks really are the stuff of dreams when you're a little worn out from peddling! 

The Ruin Bars

At sunset we made our way back to the Air Bnb to change, and then we headed out to explore the district of trendy 'ruin bars'. These bars began popping up about 15 or so years ago in abandoned apartment buildings, and are probably the coolest places I've ever had a beer in my life.

Szimpla Kert is considered the original ruin bar, with a huge maze of connected rooms on multiple floors all filled with mismatched furniture, street art and festoon lights. The busy, vibrant atmosphere is something to really soak up in this place.


As Szimpla Kert got busier we walked a little way up the street to another huge ruin bar called Instant. This place is made up of smaller club and bar-like rooms, each with a slightly different vibe. We heard some music we liked coming from the basement (a dive bar called Robot) so we wandered down. It terms out that a band called DLRM were playing and the whole underground tunnel vibe made me feel like I was in a Kerrang music video! Check out my dodgy phone pic...

Since we hadn't yet had dinner we took a walk in search of food, which didn't disappoint. We found a street food park called Karavan where we went slightly overboard at all the different food trucks, enjoying fried cheese, goulash and chimney cake, washed down with some locally brewed beer. It was so cheap, insanely tasty and the long picnic benches filled with people created a great atmosphere.

I'd like to say we partied on into the night but if I'm honest with you guys it was about 10pm at this point and we were pooped! We went back to the apartment to bed and I don't regret it one bit - party animal I am not.


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© kelly anne rist

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