My rating: 3 stars
The premise of The Power by Naomi Alderman is truly thought-provoking: what would happen if women discovered that they had supreme power? From the epigraph, it makes the reader aware that too much power can corrupt, leading us to ponder if it wouldn’t be better to live in a society characterised by equality instead. However, it lacks character development and some of the events are mentioned in a too fast succession without enough background, which I missed in order to better understand the actions and feelings of the characters.
This is a work of speculative fiction that presents to readers the manuscript of a historical novel written by Neil Armon, who is asking fellow author Naomi for her insight. It’s through his writings that the reader is introduced to the story of how girls started to electrocute people with their hands all over the world. The way in which the effects of the electric shocks are described is quite visual and detailed.
The story is told from four main points of view at first (more are added afterwards) and features drawings and documents, giving the impression of a historical report. Roxy, a 14-year-old girl at the beginning of the story, is one of the first women to use the power, the lightening shock expelled through the hands, when some men invade her house and kill her mother. Soon other girls start doing the same around the globe. It’s the young women who then awake the power in the older ones. This fact raises the question if it is in the hands of young women to do something that will lead to the empowerment of all women.
When we first meet Tunde, a young man, he is near a swimming pool with a female friend whom he fancies. They are teasing each other when she touches his hand with hers and he feels something throughout his arm, although he can’t explain what it is. Sometime later he sees a girl using the power on a man, injuring him quite badly. He films the event and puts the video online, starting ‘The Day of The Girls’.
Another prominent character is Margot, a mayor from a major metropolitan area, whose daughter Jocelyn hurts a boy using the power. She asks her daughter to do it on her, without killing her, so she can know what it feels like. After that the power is awakened on her as well. Jocelyn becomes a point of view character near the end of the book, but she could have been one earlier, since she was the main focus of her mother’s point of view early on.
While some women use the power by accident, others do it with the single purpose of killing. Allie is a 16-year-old girl who uses the power to kill her foster father who sexually abused her. Her point of view becomes quite religious as the story progresses, which I didn’t particularly enjoy. She refers to God as ‘she’ and considers Jesus’s mother to be more important than him, since she was the one who taught him about love.
Around the world society begins to change. Boys start to be afraid to go out alone, men are attacked on the streets, women attempt to rape men, and men become victims of domestic violence. There is an inversion of the previous state of affairs both in the western world and in the countries where women were more oppressed. Women start to rise up in places where they had almost no rights, like Saudi Arabia, or where they were victims of human trafficking, as in Moldova. What some women then do to men in the book shocked me as much as when it happens the other way around.
Throughout the novel, there are various mentions of current issues in our world. Naomi Alderman captured really well the type of conversations people have on online forums and cleverly mentions the importance of oil in foreign relations. There are also references to discussions we hear today about feminism, as, for example, if women should work together with men to achieve equal rights. In fact, light is shed not only on what is still happening to women worldwide by reversing gender issues, but also on the need for equality instead of a dominant sex.
The problems I had with the book have nothing to do with the themes it focuses on. They are related to how the story is told. Some chapters feel quite rushed. Too many things or events are mentioned in quick succession. In my opinion, the book should have been longer for the characters to feel more real, their personal stories more developed, and the events taking place not feeling so disconnected.
Although the story feels a bit rushed, as a long period of time is covered in not that many pages, The Power focuses on quite thought-provoking topics with a twist, and I would recommend it for that reason. Also, despite the fact that most of the things happening are quite shocking, there are also some tender moments between some characters, which I really enjoyed.