Today I’m reviewing The Power by Naomi Alderman. The Power is quite a heavy book for a Sunday and this review will mention some topics that people may find difficult so please bear this in mind.
This is one of the most passionate reviews I have written so far so this is quite a long review which is unusual on this blog but once I started writing I just couldn’t stop myself.
“‘She throws her head back and pushes her chest forward and lets go a huge blast right into the centre of his body. The rivulets and streams of red scarring run across his chest and up around his throat. She’d put her hand on his heart and stopped him dead.’
Suddenly – tomorrow or the day after – 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 extraordinary, visceral novel are utterly transformed, and we look at the world in an entirely new light
What if the power to hurt were in women’s hands?”
“When does power exist? Only in the moment it is exercised.”
Where to even begin with this review?
I had very high expectations going into The Power because of all the hype surrounding the book and I am happy to report that it did not disappoint.This was one of the most thought-provoking and provocative books I’ve read for a while.
If you’ve read The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Attwood (or seen the recent TV version of it) then think of The Power as Gilead inverted. Alderman immerses her reader in a world where women everywhere are discovering a new and dangerous power within themselves. With the simplest touch or slight of their hand, they are capable of inflicting immense pain and even causing death. This new power awakens in women an intense rage. Those who have been oppressed are now in a position to fight back, but at what cost?
Alderman’s writing was so compelling. Her tone is very direct and she doesn’t dress her narrative up with elongated descriptions. This bothered me at first as I felt like the writing was almost a bit lazy or lacking something but I soon got into it. The tone perfectly suited the narrative. With the new found power, the women are rationalising their actions and the direct approach in Alderman’s style captured this perfectly. I found myself highlighting quotes on every other page so I wanted to share a few of my favourites with you:
“It doesn’t matter that she shouldn’t, that she never would. What matters is that she could, if she wanted. The power to hurt is a kind of wealth.”
“This is the trouble with history. You can’t see what’s not there. You can look at an empty space and see that something’s missing, but there’s no way to know what it was.”
“One of them says, ‘Why did they do it, Nina and Darrell?’ And the other answers, ‘Because they could.’ That is the only answer there ever is.”
As you can see from the above quotes, Alderman has quite the way with words. She flips gender stereotypes on their head giving women the upper hand with her subtle critiques of gender stereotyping and identities. As more women find this power within them, the rates of domestic abuse against men rise. Men become afraid of women and women to become violent towards men. We see the stereotypical roles or attitudes of men and women change drastically.
One of my favourite examples of the clever way Alderman subtly highlights this is the ongoing inclusion of news segments throughout the narrative. We see the roles of the presenters change slightly as the power balance shifts. A young male presenter is brought in alongside the strong female lead. The woman delivers the hard-hitting news stories with the man only interjecting some affirmative comments and shallow insights. It is clear that the new male presenter is there to ‘smile and look pretty’ which is so on topic in the current climate with the ongoing conversations surrounding the treatment of women across industries.
The most powerful element of this book for me was the different reactions and outcomes that the reader witnesses across the globe. Alderman is not naive to the vastly different societies and situations that women live in across the world and her narrative reflects this. In America and England, the changes are very much political and practical. There is no mass outrage or rioting, there is just the slow and quiet take over of the decision maker roles by women in a very civilized manner. However, in the Middle-Eastern countries, the reaction is severe. Women who have been oppressed for so long are rebelling. They are driven by rage and a lust for revenge after being abused and denied many basic rights for so long. It is in these areas we start to see the break down of governments and societies as they were. Murder, rape, and pillaging becomes rife across countries. This was a particularly difficult part of the book to read but it was necessary. Alderman wanted us to see all the harsh parts of reality through a different lens.
The ending was another highlight for me. It was completely and utterly perfect. I must have highlighted about 10 different quotes from the last few pages alone. To give you some context, the beginning, and end of the book are written in exchanges between a writer an a what I assume is a publisher. This frames the rest of the story as we realise that The Power is written as a historical fiction book by this writer who is male. He is trying to publish his book that offers an alternative side to history that is more in line with all the historical evidence that exists. Towards the end of the novel, his exchanges with the female publisher about the book he has written were genius.
Some of my favourites were: “I know you probably didn’t mean it to come across as patronizing, but it’s not just ‘a fun idea’ to me”, “Every book you write is assessed as part of ‘men’s literature” and the subtler “I’ll ask my assistant if he’ll sort out some dates for us to have lunch”. I actually found myself laughing out loud at some of these but the one that takes the crown has to be the last line of the whole book which I know is a spoiler but I couldn’t resist including it:
“Neil, I know this might be very distasteful to you, but have you considered publishing this book under a woman’s name?”
There were so many exceptional and brilliant things about this book but the one thing that stood out to me was that Alderman gets to the heart of the issue with society in this appropriately named story. The problem isn’t men or women. The problem is power. When the women find themselves in a position of strength, they abuse their power. They don’t do a better job at running countries and societies than the men have, they make the same mistakes and show the same cruelties. Why? Simply because they can. As Alderman rightly points out, ‘that is the only answer there ever is’.
Those who have power will always be in a position to harm those who don’t and as Alderman has rightly highlighted in this book, this isn’t a problem that is linked to either men or women. The idea that one must be superior or the most powerful is the real problem.
“Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not. Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: it’s not there.”
“There’s never been a right choice, honeybun. The whole idea that there are two things and you have to choose is the problem.”
Thanks for reading! If you have made it to the end of this review then well done, you deserve a medal for sticking with me on this long rambling review!
Have you read the Power? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!