The PowerThe Power by Naomi Alderman

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Book synopsis:
Roxy is born in London’s criminal underworld and when her mother is killed by two gangland members she is determined to use the power to avenge her mother’s death. Allie Montgomery-Taylor runs away after electrocuting her abusive stepfather to death with a voice that has been with her all along guiding her through. Margot Cleary is a US politician who finds a practical way of helping the young girls control their power and use it in a positive manner. And Tunde is a journalist student, the man to witness and record the first sighting of a girl using her power. Tide’s are shifting, power is changing hands. Welcome to a world where women are the strongest sex.

The newly announced winner for the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction is Naomi Aldreman’s fourth novel and stays true to the strongly feminist and fearlessly evocative storytelling approach as her literary debut, Disobedience. In The Power, matriarchy is the new black when a whole generation of girls start developing the ability to generate varying volumes of electricity with just a  simple touch. This power is surfacing due to a genetic mutation under their skin called “skein” which has been historically present since ancient times as artifacts have been discovered portraying subdued men and women in power. Young girls are initially frightened by the force of their newly discovered physical ability and accidents even tragic ones soon start spreading fear around the world. What begins as a terrifying and unwelcomed skill soon develops into much more when people discover that girls can awaken the skein of older, adult even mature women. Not only does it rapidly gain in numbers and strength, but the power is absent in men. It is difficult maybe even impossible to imagine how living in a world where women are the strongest sex would be, and Alderman’s dystopian near future novel invites us to do just that.

The shape of power is always the same; it is the shape of a tree. Root to tip, central trunk branching and re-branching, spreading wider in ever-thinner, searching fingers. The shape of power is the outline of a living thing straining outward, sending its fine tendrils a little further, and a little further yet.

There is no denying the fact that men have been abusing and misusing their stronger physical attributes for thousands of years on women, and even today, even in developed countries, women find themselves in situations where male power is something to be, at least, wary of. A young woman in her twenties will respond differently when a man decides to talk to her while she is walking at night in the street than if a woman engages her in a similar scenario. A small group of men can be instantly perceived as a potential threat, a perception that can drastically be shifted to a more benign image if a woman is present in said group. And how many times has a woman felt uncomfortable even alarmed when randomly stumbling upon a man who decides to relieve himself in a street corner or in front of a tree because it’s easy, because why not? Men dominate the world and men enjoy dominating the world.

His particular kind of rage has always been very controlled, very quiet. The less he says, the angrier he is. He’s drunk, she can smell it, and he’s furious, and he mutters: ‘Saw you. Saw you in the graveyard with those boys. Filthy. Little. Whore.’ Each word punctuated with a punch, or a slap, or a kick. She doesn’t roll into a ball. She doesn’t beg him to stop. She knows it only makes it go on longer. He pushes her knees apart. His hand is at his belt. He’s going to show her what kind of a little whore she is. As if he hasn’t shown her many times in the past.

Does this mean that men are bad? Would women, having been given the power, act differently? Naomi Alderman says no. Just like saying pit bulls are bad dogs because they are a powerful breed, deciding that men are inherently evil is a wrong conclusion to draw. In Alderman’s dystopian future the power has changed hands and men are scared. Women become violent, rise up and are not content with just kicking patriarchy in the nuts; they want to show men who’s the boss. The premise is simple, if you are a man you are in danger. As we travel the world victims turn into assailants and revolutions start sprouting as oppressed women believe their hell on earth is ending, that God is a woman and she has come to save them. Alderman knows how to provoke with simple concepts and the push of strategic buttons. She writes that some men secretly enjoy this, are asking for it, a commentary on today’s rape culture. The sarcastic undertones are accentuated by the exaggerated impossibility of the existence and power of the skein alone. It would take the existance of such an unrealistic energy for women to gain power over men. But what if?

He is afraid. He is excited. He realizes that he could not stop her, whatever she wanted to do now. The thought is terrifying. The thought is electrifying. He is aching hard now, and does not know when that happened. He cannot feel anything at all in his left arm.

With ideas such as women forcing erections and raping men and forming tribes to spread chaos by such ways as mutilating male organs, this novel is electrifying at its core. The handicap falls on Alderman’s prose and storytelling where her wonderful ideas overwhelm a novel of such short length, not allowing the characters to show. Allie, Roxy, Margot and Tunde may be four distinct voices but in the end it is hard to care for them. The story itself is not a story rather a narrative of events, concepts and ideas which may be exhilarating, terrifying and thought-provoking, but in a novel such as this the reader needs somewhere to grab on: a base and a direction which the characters do not provide.

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