I picked up Naomi Alderman’s The Power, having heard a little bit about the concept and thinking it would be an interesting read about gender, but it was so much more than that. The Power shows a world where women have power, a physical power that surpasses any male strength; they can shoot bolts of electricity from their hands. It sounds ridiculous, and I thought it would be, I thought it would be a fun read, or at least one loaded with feminist theory which is fun for a feminist literature student. It wasn’t ridiculous. It was a fun read to start off with, it was satisfying, even cathartic to see women take back control, and it was steeped in feminist theory just as I had thought. But it doesn’t take long for the tenuous equality in this fictional world to flip on its head. Soon enough we see men forced to have a female guardian with them in public, we see once powerful mobsters raped and brutalised by strange women, we see men abused and taken advantage of, and we see women start to demean, victim blame, and dismiss men. All of this begs the question; is sexism a matter of gender or just pure power? And cruelly Naomi doesn’t answer the question but leaves the reader quaking with a deep fear and questioning the morals of the human race, just as I am as I write this review.
The book follows four characters main characters; Roxy, the daughter of a mobster who works for her father after realising she has the power; Margot, the mayor of a town with a daughter unable to control her power fully (though Margot can); Allie, the girl who escapes her abusive foster home and starts a new faith; and Tunde, the only male main character, a journalist who documents the various uprisings and disruptions around him. Though these characters do eventually come together in one way or another, their stories remain their own and the small intricacies of each story and each character helps create a world that is so undeniably real I found myself guided unknowingly to whatever it was Alderman wanted me to feel.
As well as wonderful characters and believable plot, the story has other elements of dark reality. Illustrations of cryptic historical findings punctuate the novel, giving an idea of female power stretching back throughout time, giving a sense of inevitability to the novel. This inevitability is only strengthened by the brief, but powerful, framing narrative that I won’t give away too much about.
There are a few strands of the story that worried me at first; there was a prominent men’s rights activist group that featured throughout the novel and I was worried it was going to take a dark turn I wouldn’t be comfortable with (this blog is in no way unbiased, groups like this make me worry for the fate of humanity). But Alderman manages to find a middle ground, teasing her way between two extreme gender ideals and focusing on the humanity of the stories that bind them together to the point where this book isn’t taking a side, merely presenting an idea.
I picked up this book just to see what kind of SF could break the barrier into the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and I found myself reading a deeply political, relevant piece that could even rival Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as one of the best feminist SF pieces I’ve read in years.
Seriously, read this book. You will not be disappointed.