Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Power


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.

The Power was a very interesting one to read so soon after reading The Handmaid's Tale. While Margaret Atwood imagines a future of subjugation for women, Naomi Alderman completely turns this on its head. Instead, she asks what would happen if women had physical power over men.

It starts in the distant future with a letter from a male author to Naomi Alderman introducing his work. This then forms the majority of the book. He has written a book looking back at our time now, which has become known as the cataclysm era. Women have begun to be born with the ability to produce electric shocks from their bodies. Young women can awaken the power in older women, and the world starts to change as women begin to fight back and assert their physical dominance.  Now it's men who are afraid for their safety, advised not to walk alone at night.

This is already a powerful idea, but the main theme of the book is that power corrupts, no matter who it belongs to.  Alderman hammers this point home throughout the book, with many scenes that are nothing short of disturbing. We see many women abusing their new status in society and men having their rights stripped away. Travel is restricted, with curfews and enforced female supervision; on the other end of the spectrum there is rape and male gential mutilation.  It's not easy reading, but very powerful. 

The story is told through the experience of four different people. Each one has a different perspective, together creating the big picture of a world run by women.  Some parts were more engaging than others and not all the plot developments were great. In general, it was more the concept of the novel that made this such a great read.

The conversation between the two authors was a very clever framing device. The novel ends with more correspondence between them. He comments on the horrific events he has written about, and states his disbelief that it would be this way if men were more dominant. Men would never inflict these kinds of horrors on women, would they?  In fact, he has written his historical account to argue for the dismantling of the current power structure, to create a more equal society. This is, of course, exactly what feminism has been fighting for all along.

The Power has made the shortlist for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2017. It stands a great chance of winning! By imagining a world run by women, Naomi Alderman shines a light on the many inequalities women face today, from gender-based violence to sexism in the workplace. Great eye-opening speculative fiction, definitely not easy to forget.