Publisher Penguin Fiction
What if the power to hurt were in women's hands?
Suddenly - tomorrow or the day after - teenage girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, the four lives at the heart of Naomi Alderman's
The question I kept asking myself as I read The Power was “Is this a feminist book?”. It was certainly sold to me as one, though as it unfolded, the narrative turned out to be a lot more complex than the female empowerment I expected.
If you wanted to read this as a misandrist handbook you probably could. Over the course of the novel as we see societal power shift from men to women, the women become even more ruthless and cruel than we expect from “the weaker sex”. This is the central point of the novel, there is nothing inherently evil about the group that holds the power, but power corrupts it’s holder. In this way this novel is more of a thought experiment than a story, what would happen if the power structures in society shifted to favour the women? Is there anything inherently peaceful about women, or is it there lack of power that allows them to take the compassionate, gentle role in society. Do women only behave this way as a foil for men, and is the submissive group always considered peaceful? The narrative illustrates that it’s quite easy to argue the “superiority” of one gender once that gender holds the power, of course they are better, because they wouldn’t have all the power if they weren’t? The “Power” eventually leads gendered violence against men. By exploring rape, Alderman examines the theory that rape is less about sexual desire, and more a display of power, dominance and a way of oppressing and controlling the weaker group.
Aldermen also explores who intersex individuals fit into this new power structure. The skein is considered a secondary sex characteristic and boys that are born with skeins and girls that are born without are shunned by society.
Alderman also uses some unusual ways to drive home the huge cultural shift that occurs before and after the cataclysm. The correspondence between “Naomi” and “Neil” ,book ending the narrative, about the book he’s writing is jarring. We are not used to hearing women talk to men in this way, the condescending language that Naomi uses when critiquing his work is usually reserved for women in the workplace. The novel is also dotted with drawings of found artifacts, thought to be used by women and girls training their power.
As interesting and thought provoking as the book is, it does require the reader to suspend their disbelief for a few key points. The skein made absolutely no scientific sense to me. How does it work? Where does it comes from? Why did women lose this power and why did it come back? The voice in Allie’s head also really frustrated me. What was it her mom, the Mother, mental illness? If this was cleared up in the book, I must have missed it.
“The Power” is unlike any other book I’ve read. By taking societal norms and flipping them it creates an unnerving and disconcerting narrative exploring gender violence and dominance. It’s no “The Handmaid’s Tale” but is a worthy member of the modern feminist canon.
Four Stars ****