Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Review: ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman

For me reading has always been more than just entertainment, although the countless hours I have spent behind the pages of books have been amongst the most fun and exciting in my life. However, reading has also opened up my world in ways I never could have imagined. Part of the joy of reading is finding a book that teaches you something new, makes you see something in a completely new light. Although every book adds something to your life, every once in a while you find a book that truly makes a change in your life. The Power is such a book. Thanks to Little, Brown and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 27/10/2016
Publisher: Little, Brown; Viking
'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?
There is no better moment than now to talk about power and gender.The USA is in the midst of electing its new president and has the chance to elect Hillary Clinton, one of the most qualified people to ever run for office. And yet the predicted winner is a man who used his position, gender, wealth and class to gain power throughout his life. For most of the world’s history, power has lain with men, white men to be specific, leading to the establishing of the patriarchy which has continued this inequality. This may all seem like a thing of the past since “Feminism happened”, yet the 2016 election once again showed how strong the difference is in how men and women are seen and treated. No matter how competent, seemingly the power will always remain with men. It also takes a novel such as The Power, however, to wake its readers up to their own attitudes regarding power. In Alderman’s world Power, the ability to generate electricity from their palms, awakens globally in young girls and the whole power dynamic shifts. Watching this election I can feel an anger in me which resonates strongly with the anger felt by some of the women in Alderman's The Power, which shows the strength of her writing as well as the continuing anger that the power imbalance between men and women continues to generate.

The Power follows a range of characters, each of which grows to become a crucial player in the novel’s world. We start with Roxy, a feisty girl who discovers incredible power inside of her. Next is Tunde, a boy from Nigeria who witnesses the Power and begins to document it. Eve, a mysterious girl with Power and a plan. And finally, Margot, a Mayor who is on the front lines of coping with the Power. This range of characters allows Alderman the freedom to show what the arrival of the Power does to the world. Not only does she show the changing relationships between men and women, but also the impacts across cultures and societies. What does an Eastern European girl who has been sold into sex slavery do when she suddenly becomes more powerful than her captors? What does an Indian girl do who has been told her whole life she is weak and pathetic when she realizes she is not? Alderman tries to tell a global story, which is one of the things I appreciated most while reading The Power. There are a variety of stories running through the novel, covering different lives and different experiences, and it all comes together to form a rich and realistic worldview, something which can, sadly, be rare in fiction. Alderman's novel isn't here to press a message onto its readers that "women are better" or "women are more powerful", rather The Power presents you a shifted world, allowing you to see the danger of power imbalance from a new angle.

Speculative fiction is one of my favourite genres because it is the genre which teaches me the most about myself. One of the first speculative books I read was The Handmaid’s Tale, at an age when I wasn’t entirely ready for it. It felt over the top, perhaps even dramatic, to exaggerate gender relations in the way that Atwood had. I reread the book a few years later, older not only in age but also in world experience, and immensely appreciated what Atwood had done. Speculative fiction has the ability to highlight an issue in such a way you see it in a completely new and different light. For me, reading The Power not only taught me something about power relations but also about myself. Throughout the first half of The Power I found myself loving the new power women had, how they could now impress, scare, control and rule in the way that men can. However, as the novel continued I became more and more aware of how desire for power is a desire for power over others. When one group becomes all powerful some will eventually become corrupted and cruel and women are no exception to that rule. Seeing characters corrupted by power and knowing how they became so, sympathising with their choices and yet being disgusted by them, trying not to understand them but doing so anyway: this is what The Power did to me and it opened my eyes. The Power will open your eyes as to how you see gender and power and the relationship between the two. I often hear people joke that the world would be a better place if only women ran it. After reading The Power that is not only not a joke, it is also a sad sign of how binary our thinking is.

Alderman’s writing is visceral and cutting, not sparing the reader and thereby gifting them something special. The set-up of The Power gives Alderman a lot of freedom to experiment and explore her narrative, but this freedom comes with a responsibility. The novel starts with a meta-framework, producing the email dialogue between the author of the novel and the “author”, Alderman herself, who are living in a post-The Power world. This is only an example of how Alderman intersperses her narrative with different media throughout the novel, ranging from illustrations (expertly drawn by ) to Internet fora. This gives The Power a depth which allows it to discuss power relations in a much more insightful and broad way than many other novels manage. It shows how pervasive power relations are, how much of our culture and society is dominated by who is considered alpha, and how easily our minds accept narratives of power.

I give this novel…
5 Universes!

The Power is the best book I have read so far in 2016 and it will remain one of my favourites for a long time. Alderman’s novel is intelligent and fascinating, telling a good story while also doing some fascinating work. I personally cannot wait for Alderman’s next book.

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