Baileys Prize Long-List Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

the power.jpgThe Premise: overnight, the world’s girls develop strange, electrical powers, including the ability to fatally zap people at will. Suddenly, women are the dominant sex. The Power is narrated through the perspective of Roxy, the daughter of a gangster; Allie, who uses her newly developed powers to escape an abusive home and later becomes a figurehead for a spiritual movement; Margot, an ambitious mayor with a daughter whose powers are problematic, and Tunde, a Nigerian man with journalistic dreams who seizes the opportunity to chronicle what’s happening.

Thoughts: a week after finishing this book, I’m still not sure I can properly formulate sentences about it. I stayed up past my bedtime to finish it and then found myself unable to sleep, so focused was I on the issues The Power raises.

Firstly, it’s a really intriguing and compelling story. The shift in power from men to women is a simple enough premise, but is explored here with great complexity. There are moments of gender-role-related satire, like when men are advised not to go out without personal alarms, and Alderman’s creation of a world in which women are in charge is certainly an engaging one; not one, however, that seems particularly appealing based on what Alderman shows us here. It’s this area which I had a problem with, and I’m still troubled by it. The creation of a ruling sisterhood seems like an appealing thing (I’m thinking of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, for example), but Alderman takes the idea of power and the means of maintaining it too far, in my opinion; anyone thinking of reading The Power should be aware that rape occurs more than once in the novel, and the apparent portrayal of it as an inevitable manifestation of one group’s power over another did not convince or engage me.

It’s disappointing that this was my over-riding feeling on finishing The Power as, prior to the last quarter, I found the characters and their related but distinct stories really interesting. Margot’s political machinations, juxtaposed with her (occasionally questionable) concern for her daughter, provides a fascinating aspect to the over-arching plot, while the intersecting stories of Roxy and Allie also appealed to me.
The book’s jacket features a wildly enthused Margaret Atwood proclaiming The Power to be “electrifying! Shocking!” and that “you’ll think twice about everything,” and my literary idol is not lying there; there was certainly plenty in The Power that shocked me. The Atwood influence is, I think, very evident when reading Alderman’s book; at times, it is as if she has read a chapter of The Handmaid’s Tale and tried to rewrite it; the framing narrative, consisting of a male author writing to Alderman for advice on his novel, is the closest thing to The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Historical Notes I’ve ever seen. And it works, and comparing something to Atwood’s masterpiece is certainly not an insult; it just felt a little too close at times.

Conclusion: Having written my thoughts, I am no closer to deciding what they actually are. It’s very confusing. The Power is definitely an interesting book and one that is worth reading. I’m just not sure how productive it is to construct such a terrifying picture of a world dominated by women. My house is dominated by women and it’s awesome.

Have you read The Power? I feel a really urgent need to discuss this book with people, so, if you have, let’s dissect it in the comments.