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Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman
The Power is Required Reading
2017 was a hell of a year and I needed to read a good book. So when I got an email notification that The Power eBook was available, I dropped everything I was doing and opened it up. I thought I knew what I was getting into. A book where all women in the world suddenly get the power to electrocute people? It sounded like the perfect empowering, you-go-girl, revenge fantasy I needed. While it may have been those things at times, this book packed so much more of a wallop than I expected. As I swiped through the last page, I knew Naomi Alderman’s newest novel should be required reading for 2018.
Set in modern times, The Power follows four main characters: Allie, a troubled youth turned powerful messiah; Roxy, a cynical and tough mob boss; Margot, an ambitious politician and anxious mother; and Tunde, a determined male reporter. It begins as women around the world discover they have the power of electricity in their hands. Not only that, but they are able to hurt and even kill people with this power. Though at times reminiscent of Octavia Butler and Frank Herbert, The Power holds its own as a unique and provoking work of science fiction.
In the beginning, the diverse perspective of the main characters shows all the ways the power can be used for “good.” One woman kills her abusive stepfather, another avenges her mother’s murder. A group of women sex slaves use the power to escape their captors. Women take to the streets in shows of power, not just protest. The buildup of woman beginning to take control is written with perfect tension and anticipation. Something is coming and the reader can feel it. The description of the power itself is vivid enough to make the reader begin studying her own hands to see if she has the spark as well.
As the book continues, and storylines begin to intersect, the reader begins to see the “bad” that comes with this power. Women begin to commit acts of violence on men; women take over religion, organized crime, and politics; the women sex slaves who liberated themselves take over the country that allowed their capture; wars are started and countries destroyed. And the reader finds themselves at times rooting for characters that aren’t always good, and seeing victory in moments of real violence. At first, it almost feels like a warning.
It would be easy to think this book was simply trying to argue that a world run by women would be just as bad. However, the most poignant parts of the story are the ones that are all too familiar; and they are usually the scenes where the patriarchy fights to keep its control. A men’s rights group carries out a terrorist attack at a women’s clinic. A woman is kidnapped and her power is literally cut out of her. A woman is beaten and arrested by police and denied medical attention. The main difference appears to be the reaction to these attacks. For once, women have the power to do something about them, and what they chose to do is very often not pretty. Alderman seems perfectly at ease with making her readers – particularly her male readers – squirm. The scenes that make the reader feel uncomfortable are meant to do just that, because they are already happening all around us. The book does exactly what a science fiction novel should do: it holds a mirror up to society’s face.
It’s surprising that a smaller book (341 pages) with short chapters could encompass such a provocative story. The succinctness of the writing and multiple characters allowed so much to be discovered and carried out. The writing was repetitive at times, which slowed down the story in some spots. However overall, the book was a page turner that made me feel both powerful and powerless at the same time. The day after I finished it, I saw a man reading it on the subway. Seeing this book be read by the people who need to read it most made me feel ecstatic – with an emphasis on “static”.
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