Today’s review is for a book that has sat on my TBR for far too long! I picked it up off the charity bookshelf in a cafe almost three years ago, but, as usual, I got distracted by so many different books! It deliberately put it on my 21 books for 2021 list to make me read it and I’m hoping to be able to read and review them all this year!
Title: The Power
Author: Naomi Alderman
Publication Date : 27th October 2017
Dystopia and books with a feminist slant are right up my alley so it’s no surprise that I was drawn to this book. Women all around the world are discovering that they are able to inflict an electrical charge which comes from a small organ in their body called a skein. This has only just been awoken and the power can passed on to other women, too. The world will never be the same again as the patriarchy is turned on its head. It’s been met which critical acclaim which led to The Power being crowned the 2017 Women’s Prize for Fiction winner.
This book was incredibly nuanced and played on several themes of religion, populism, sexual assault, misogyny, and oppression. It flips gender stereotypes on their head, but the whole book is far more complicated that just a simple gender power role reversal. There is so much I could unpick here, so I’ve just picked out a few of the elements that caught my eye.
Throughout the novel, men cower in fear at the power that women are now able to yield; many of whom do not hesitate to use their new found powers to seek retribution for the history of oppression that women have suffered. Frequently, a woman will justify her use of force as giving men a taste of their own medicine. I thought that this was a very pertinent point to make – seeking a more gender equal society is not about vengeance and oppressing the oppressor. How does this make us any better than the ones who oppress us?
The rise of the men’s rights movement online drew scary parallels between some of the vitriol that is aimed at women from underground men’s rights activists, particularly online. The use of language here was extremely graphic, but it seemed like an accurate representation of what some women have described receiving from trolls. Many women in the public eye such a Jess Phillips MP, Diane Abbott MP and Professor of Classics Mary Beard have been open about the chauvinistic abuse they’ve received online. I also believe that this demonstrates a wider malaise in society which is feelings of animosity towards groups they perceive as usurping their place in society. We have seen this in some of the language regarding Brexit – the fear of the “other”, the foreigner who is “stealing jobs from British people”. While I believe this is absolute tripe, I think that it’s important to be wary of this malaise as, ultimately, it will impact on our society in some way if left unchecked and unaddressed.
The theme of religion was also prevalent throughout the novel. It is told through the eyes of several women, and the odd man, one of whom is a young woman named Allie. She hears this voice in her head which she associates with Eve, going on to call herself Mother Eve and preach via social media about the power being given by God, who is now styled as a woman. This raises the interesting notion of whether, due to God being seen as male, women are instantly inferior because of these perceptions. It is maybe easier for men to achieve godlike status due to sharing the same gender. And don’t forget, it was Eve who brought about the fall of Eden. The storyline with Allie also seeks to highlight the crucial role that social media has in disseminating ideas, for good or for bad.
Another aspect of the book that I thought was really clever was the way it was posited as an alternative history. The book opens with an epistolary conversation between Neil, who is writing a history book on the power, and Naomi, who I presumed was his editor. Throughout, there are also snippets of archaeological evidence of the era which unfolds in the novel. There is then a cataclysmic event which occurs outside of the story’s pages, but which the novel builds up towards, plunging the world back into the stone age for 5000 years. This comes about from the desire to completely abolish the current society for a one which will not resist the power of women, but also the pride from so many individuals that we meet throughout the book who believe that they can win this war. For me, this aspect of the book is a parable for what we see so frequently in our world today; uncompromising power grabbing and individualist thinking cannot make winners of everyone.
I deliberated for a long time about what to rate this book. I found some chapters to be a little inconsistent in their power to grab me, but that might be due to my headspace while reading. I also got a little bit confused regarding who some of the characters were; again, I think, because it took me about 4 weeks to finish this book, I just forgot!
An extremely thought-provoking read which I feel is completely justified in winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017! It’s reading this sort of book that makes me wish I had the time or the money to pursue a MA in Comparative Literature!
Have you read The Power or any other dystopia novels with a feminist slant? Let me know in the comments!