The Power Review
The Power by Naomi Alderman: My Review
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
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.
This book frustrated me a great deal. Unfortunately I put it down just before I got halfway through for a number of reasons which I will discuss. Alderman's unusual abstraction of girls being able to produce electricity inside them to torture or kill is an extremely intriguing premise for a dystopian novel and the reason I picked it up in the first place, but for me it never unraveled into a particularly engaging story.
The Power imagines how the female body becoming an instrument of power would affect the world we live in, and what it would be like if men lived in constant fear of their physical safety instead. Across the globe, teenage girls develop a 'skein', a strip of muscle in their collarbone which conducts electricity, thus allowing them to instantly inflict pain or even death. Suddenly, the world changes beyond recognition; entire governments crumble to influential women, the army is almost entirely composed of females, God switches gender and young girls break free from sexual slavery to run towns in parliamentary gangs. I wanted to feel exhilarated, physically and mentally empowered by this unique upturn of patriarchy in our contemporary society, but for some reason I just didn't end up experiencing much emotion at all. For me, it felt like the book was exploring a concept without telling an interesting story and I felt my mind drifting elsewhere as my eyes were reading the pages.
The author uses four different perspectives to traverse the discovery of the power and the synonymous effects of this dramatic reversal of gender capacity. Sadly, in the 150-odd pages I read, I found nothing special in any of the four characters or their backstories and I struggled to really engage with each of them - Margot and Tunde were particularly bland - which is the main reason I wasn't enjoying the experience of reading this book. There's also a heavy focus on religion within Allie's sections which was interesting at first but then became so entrenched that I felt it dragged on and stalled the pace of the story Alderman was trying to tell. While I thought the nod to rape culture was effective and definitely necessary within the story, for me the depiction of Allie's retaliation was way too unrealistic and actually quite disturbing to picture, making a scene that could have been very empowering actually quite innocuous.
However, 2.5 stars is a fairly high rating for a book I didn't want to finish, but I felt inclined to give this rating to The Power because, regardless of all the issues I had with it, the author stimulates an outlook that I didn't realize I'd really wanted to read of until I read of it. And that was this: the root of the widespread gender disparity disease is not the nature of men or of women themselves - it's a power issue. Those with power abuse it because they need someone to use it on. What starts out as a useful defense mechanism for teenage girls becomes darker rapidly - once half the world is united in its ability to inflict pain, the new giddiness of freedom calcifies into something much more ruthless. A perfect example of how power corrupts. The mental disposition of both genders has not changed, so the upturn of gender roles comes purely from the introduction of a new physical power that becomes out of control. We probably have been through this same cycle many times, over hundreds of thousands of years, always falling victim to the same hubris and error in thinking. Power causes upheaval, and a society with a power balance between the sexes will therefore never facilitate an equal one.
Overall, there were some very clever subversive scenes and fascinating ideas linking gender dynamics to the influence of power embedded in what I read of this book. Unfortunately, though, this wasn't enough to make me care enough to persevere with the story, and the disjointed plot and insipid characters meant ultimately it wasn't the thought-provoking novel I was anticipating.