The Power by Naomi Alderman is a thought-provoking portrayal of what the world would be like if women were the dominant sex in society.
I listened to The Power on audiobook and it limited my enjoyment of the book for a number of reasons. You can hear my thoughts on character casting and the multi-faceted plot of The Power below.
The story is framed as historical fiction from the future, imagining that thousands of years ago (around our present time) young women developed the power to wield electricity through their hands.
This obviously flips the traditional power dynamic of our patriarchal society on its head, completely changing the discourse; women have to come to grips with being feared in a world where they’ve always been afraid.
The Power also shows us these changes from male perspectives, particularly a Nigerian journalist called Tunde. Chapters told from his point-of-view contrast well with those of young women beginning military careers and starting religious sects, or women pushing through reforms in parliament.
Overall, I was intrigued by the premise of The Power by Naomi Alderman, but I didn’t enjoy the reading experience. Around halfway through the book I stopped caring about most of the main female characters (specifically Allie, Jocelyn and Margot), and it was purely the plot and premise that pushed me through to the end.
Having said that, the book’s agenda centers around dominant sexes and power dynamics, and the themes had me thinking about gender stereotypes, strengths and morality in a unique way; almost backwards.
Having this ‘upside down’ view of the history told through realistic character developments and plots was a nice way to contextualise the ideas and issues Alderman raises. As the quote from Margaret Atwood suggests, it will make you ‘think twice, about everything.’
There are a few shocking scenes where women act abhorrently toward men, most particularly a rape scene. In an attempt to gain empowerment in retaliation for thousands of years of oppression, some female characters become the monsters they’ve always feared from patriarchal society.
The final chapter undercuts the shock-factor of previous chapters and reminds the reader of the metafictional framing of the novel (as a piece of ‘history’) by musing that perhaps this wasn’t really how things went (but that we’ll never know for sure, because all the archives of that time have been destroyed).
The Power is the kind of book I wanted to like but didn’t really, and would have preferred to read in print. I feel I lost some comprehension of the plot by listening on audio, however I’ve been turning things over in my mind all week and I suppose that means it achieved its purpose.