Shortlisted for Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017 The Power by Naomi Alderman is one of the most electrifying reads I have read in a long while. Couched as a history novel, this story takes you through an alternative world – where women have The Power a world where contemplate what a world run by men may look like: ‘[s]urely [it’s] a kinder, more caring and – dare I say it? – more sexy world than the one we live in.’
Touted as a science fiction dystopian novel this book will make you think differently. Boys dress as girls ‘to seem more powerful’. Girls dressing as boys to shake off the meaning of the power, or to leap on the unsuspecting, wolf in sheep’s clothing‘. Bolivia has proclaimed a female pope, women are running around killing men and men are starting to become afraid – very afraid.
What is The Power? Well, it can only be described as a sort of electrical current running through a woman’s body which, when used, can vary from the sexually sublime to deathly consequences. The young women awaken The Power in the middle aged and older and suddenly most women can wield this unstoppable weapon.
The story is effectively a story within a story. The first story begins with the author of the main body of the book writing to a friend asking for her advice on the content of his new book – a history book detailing the origins of The Power. We see early on that this world in which he is writing is markedly different to the one we currently live in. And so starts his story. The account of how The Power originated.
We follow four main stories Tunde, a man who is charting the progress of The Power, Roxy, a young woman from a notorious almost gangster-like family, Ali who turns into a religious figure – Mother Eve – who escapes sexual abuse from her foster parents, and Margot a power hungry diplomat determined to climb higher. We start slow, getting to know each of the characters wondering how the beginnings of The Power will pan out. Will all the women be killed? How will the word survive with no women? Eventually, the stories all merge into on cataclysmic event which leaves the reader with no doubt as to what lay ahead.
Alderman brings everything into this novel from religion to politics to sexual desire to ambition. This, in my opinion, makes this a stand out novel from the rest of the shortlist (albeit I am yet to read The Sport of Kings and Do Not Say We Have Nothing). This book will have you on the edge of your seat and for a woman’s prize in fiction – Bailey’s could not have picked a better novel to be shortlisted. One which, in this alternate world, questions the future of men where:
‘Men are dangerous. Men commit the great majority of crimes, Men are less intelligent, less diligent, less hard-working, their brains are in their muscles and in their pricks. Men are more likely to suffer from diseases and they are a drain on the resources of the country. Of course we need them to have babies, but how many do we need for that? Not as many as women…”
We see a complete role reversal of the stereotypical gender types. Women have the power and there is no need for huge numbers of men. We see men – once gangsters – now falling behind their sister in fights, men who led broadcasts being cast aside for another man who sits and smiles compliantly, a man who runs out in search of knowing more about The Power excited by it cowered by the sheer force of it. Men are becoming obsolete. The ones left need to stand out from the crowd to survive. How will they do this?
Dominance, drugs and downright sadomasochism are each interwoven with the main theme of women taking control. What more would you want from a book?
Recommended for: if you liked The Hunger Games you will like this book.
Favourite quote: ‘I know this might be very distasteful to you, but have you considered publishing this book under a woman’s name?‘