The Power: It’s electrifying

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The Power by Naomi AldermanThe Power by Naomi Alderman speculative fiction book reviewsThe Power by Naomi Alderman

One thing’s for sure, The Power (2016 in the UK, Oct 2017 in the US) demands attention. Margaret Atwood has given it her blessing and I’ll eat my hat if The Power doesn’t have its own Netflix series sometime soon. Naomi Alderman could well be the next big name in subversive, feminist fiction.

The Power asks — what would happen if all women could physically dominate men? Over five years, Alderman answers that question and the answer is explosive, bloody, wild and thought-provoking.

One day, across the globe, fifteen-year-old girls realise they have electrical power in their fingertips. For some of them it’s strong enough to kill a man with one blow, or rather, one jolt. As the world awakens to this new reality, its leaders desperately try to provide answers. Is it a virus, a disease, a religious blight — can it be cured? But as adults wrangle with the problem, girls are growing stronger, honing their power and learning how to control it. What’s more, they can pass the power on to older women.

Soon, boys have to be protected in single-sex schools and in parts of the world where women have always been repressed, mass riots break out. In Riyadh, women flood the streets, setting fire to the cars they never drove. In Eastern Europe, former sex slaves practice until they are ready to strike their attackers.

Alderman tells her story through the perspective of five characters who, between them, provide a wide vista of the new world. First, there’s Allie, an abused foster-child who joins a convent of women where she develops gifts that mark her as a leader. Responding to prophetic voices in her mind she re-casts herself as “Mother Eve” and decides that to protect herself and all womankind, she must “own the place.”

Then there’s Roxy, a straight-talking Brit, daughter of a big-time gangster. Roxy has the strongest power anyone’s ever seen and when her brother is horrifically abused by a group of girls, it’s her chance to step up and take the family throne. She’s a bit too tough, a bit too plucky to be relatable or realistic, but it doesn’t stop her being one of the most enjoyable characters of the book.

The reader gains a male perspective from Tunde, a teenager who takes his life into his hands when he decides to document the changing world, working with the big news agencies as a roving reporter. Tunde provides some of the story’s most interesting reflections as he oscillates between fear, respect, lust, and anger. In Tunde, Alderman illuminates the plight of the “weaker party” — the person who in any given situation is vulnerable due to physical inferiority.

Finally, there’s Margot Cleary, an ambitious governor who uses the chaos to propel her career. In doing so she instigates a network of training camps across America in which girls train to use and control their power for their own good, and the good of the nation. Margot provides a much-needed adult perspective, demonstrating that although the power is a youthful gift, the older generation will also bend it to their advantage. She is a complex mix of protective mother and ruthless leader, the reader is never sure of her true motivations.

The Power is clever — though the really clever stuff bookends the story. It is the opening and closing segments that reveal the wittiness and the ingenuousness of Alderman’s vision. It’s here that she has the reader questioning, “Is this what would happen? Is this how people would react?” Often the answer is, “I hope not, but probably.”

Alderman’s scope is impressive, covering politics, religion, playground antics and personal relationships. As the world’s leaders reel she also zooms in on not-so-petty squabbles between school girls, fraught mother-daughter relationships and sibling rivalry. Alderman posits what would happen if the power balance between genders was switched and she gives us answers, and lots of them. There’s no sitting on the fence here.

The middle of The Power is less thoughtful. The story cascades into a wild and bloody adventure of female power and the abuse of power, scanning the globe but centering in Eastern Europe where a female leader creates a new nation and prepares to go to war. Terrible atrocities of a shocking, often sexual nature, are documented in gory detail by Tunde who chooses to focus on the volatile region. The grubbier parts of life — sexual abuse, drugs, and violence — are brought to the fore as centuries worth of pent-up rage spill forth.

At this point I wondered if Alderman could possibly tie her story together. It felt as if things had gone irrevocably awry and that she’d taken the adventure too far at the expense of the story’s more interesting concepts. Though she does gradually draw the characters together I grew a little tired of the extravagance of the thing and its larger than life characters.

But credit where credit’s due. Alderman pulls off a spectacular ending, bringing the story right back to the big hitting questions, the ones that leave the reader reeling and questioning — “what would I do?” The big finale is not particularly subtle. It’s clear what questions Alderman is asking and it’s clear she is deliberately provoking us to ask and answer. But that’s OK. The Power isn’t a subtle book, but it is a good one.

Publishes in the US in October 2017. Published in 2016 in the UK. **WINNER OF THE 2017 BAILEYS WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION**. What would happen if women suddenly possessed a fierce new power? In THE POWER, the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power–they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets. From award-winning author Naomi Alderman, THE POWER is speculative fiction at its most ambitious and provocative, at once taking us on a thrilling journey to an alternate reality, and exposing our own world in bold and surprising ways.

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KATIE BURTON, who joined us in September 2015, is a solicitor in London and now an aspiring journalist. She was lucky enough to be showered with books as a child and from the moment she had The Hobbit read to her as a bedtime story was hooked on all things other-worldy. Katie believes that characters are always best when they are believable and complex (even when they aren't human) and is a sucker for a tortured soul or a loveable rogue. She loves all things magical and the more fairies, goblins and mystical creatures the better. Her personal blog is Nothing if Not a Hypocrite.

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One comment

  1. This definitely sounds like one to look out for! Thanks for the great review, Katie!

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