The good: Fascinating idea that examines the use and abuse of power by the sexes.
The not-so-good: A little too much shocking and not enough movement at the start.
Why I chose it: On the Bailey’s Prize shortlist.
Rating: 9 out of 10
One of the (many) reasons I follow the Bailey’s Prize each year is that it introduces me to fiction by women that I would not have found out about by myself or picked up. The Power is one of those books, and boy, am I glad to have read it. (Although given the subject matter, I did cringe just now after writing boy.) If you’ve read Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things, you would be familiar with a dystopian future that shames women. The Power turns all that on its head and gives the superiority of the sexes to the women. But what do they do with it?
The story is told through the eyes of several women and one man as the Day of the Girls dawns. On this day, young women begin to find that they have the power to shock others with a touch. Electricity crackles between their hands. They begin to practise, then use their newfound power to hurt, maim or kill. It has the men running. But what does it all mean and where does the newfound power take the world? For Allie, it’s the death of an abusive stepfather and the dawning of a new religion as Mother Eve. Roxy tries to take on the family business, but discovers it may be more powerful to work with Mother Eve than run a drug business from home. Margot is a town mayor at the mercy of a dumb witted male governor – how can she use the change in history to her advantage? And Tunde records it all everywhere he goes, showing the riots, coups and uprising of the girls.
They say that absolute power corrupts and in Naomi Alderman’s story, it doesn’t matter which sex has the power. They will abuse it. The women hold up a mirror to the sexist treatment of them for centuries and emulate it. There are rapes, burnings, humiliation and violence for fun. Men run scared, afraid to be alone with a woman, afraid to walk the streets alone at night. The women take their power and use it to take on the world. It’s not pretty. It’s not peace loving. It’s brutal and violent. Each of the main characters takes the power and uses it for their own purposes and benefits.
The Power isn’t always an easy story to read for its content, but in the current climate it’s necessary. It simply takes what has happened and is happening and makes women the perpetrators. It’s a brave, original idea and feeling shocked by the content only made me realise what a blind eye is turned to violence already. None of the characters are particularly likeable, they are there to make it to the top and screw anyone who gets in their way. The character I felt the most sympathy for was Jocelyn, Margot’s daughter, whose power is erratic and weak at times. This makes her an outcast amongst fellow women, which her mother tries to hide by enrolling her as a soldier for the UN.
An added bonus of The Power is the letters at the start and the end between Naomi and Neil. The last section is particularly powerful as it all comes together – a perfect plot twist. I don’t want to spoil it, but yes, well played Naomi Alderman!
I think The Power is a very strong contender to take out the Bailey’s Prize, which would be great to attract more people to this powerful novel.