When I spotted a copy of Naomi Alderman’s latest novel, The Power, I couldn’t resist picking it up. With its intriguing premise and the endorsement of Margaret Atwood, I was eager to start reading straight away, to discover the world within its pages, a world that asks ‘What if the power were in women’s hands?
‘It is only that every day one grows a little, every day something is different, so that in the heaping up of days suddenly a thing that was impossible has become possible. This is how a girl becomes a grown woman.’
The story begins with the ‘Day of the Girls’, a day when teenage girls discover they have a strength they never knew they had. They discover that they have a remarkable power, one where they can hurt, and even kill a person, with a jolt of electricity through their fingertips. The Power follows the stories of four characters and how they are affected by this discovery in a world which starts to change dramatically. The first we meet is Roxy, the daughter of a crime boss who is keen to seek revenge against those who harmed those closest to her. Allie is an abused foster child who, desperate to flee her troubled childhood, remodels herself as ‘Mother Eve’ – a faith leader. Margot is a politician rising to prominence who learns to deal with this new found strength and how it impacts her daughter. Then there is Tunde, a young Nigerian man who sets out to capture events as they unfold whilst he deals with being a man in a woman’s world. As the power takes hold and more girls learn how to use their ability, we see the impact it has on the male population. Men start to avoid women; young boys are segregated in schools for their own safety. And as people try to work out whom or what is to blame for this phenomenon, girls and women throughout the world revel in their new abilities. The younger girls teach the older women how to use the power; they test things out on each other, learning how to use the electricity for pleasure as well as pain.
“I want justice,” she says. “And then I want everything. You wanna stand with me? Or you wanna stand against me?”
From the start I was gripped by this unusual story and the lives of the central characters and how they are each changed by the power. The descriptions of the power and its deadly impact were vivid and events begin to spiral further out of control as more and more women utilise the power, seeking revenge against the men who had hurt and oppressed them. Some of the scenes within the book are shocking, as women overpower men, extinguishing life with a single touch, and there are also sexual elements to some attacks. This is certainly a bold, sometimes horrifying story but it is also a thought provoking one that raises lots of interesting points about the balance of power between the genders. It puts the spotlight on how people can gain dominance and how this can be changed through time and throughout the novel as events unfold it counts down to a global cataclysm. I was interested to see that The Power is presented as being a work of historical fiction written by a male writer. The novel begins and ends with letters between an author named Neil and Naomi Alderman which discuss the manuscript and its portrayal of how women came to be dominant over men thousands of years previously. This worked really well and their exchanges provided even more in terms of a commentary on gender and what the world would be like if the balance of power were reversed.
‘They are the inevitable result of all that went before. The power seeks its outlet. These things have happened before; they will happen again.’
I enjoyed reading The Power and found it to be gripping, fascinating story. It is a book that shocked and surprised me, and made me think about a different world.