The Power was one of the most talked-about books in 2017. It attracted both critical acclaim and general popularity. It won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, bringing it to the top of many reader’s lists. It was a book that had often intrigued me, but had never really grabbed me. I saw it on the Kindle Store for a discounted price, so decided ‘feminist’ fiction is a great way to open 2018’s reading.
In short, The Power is a futuristic imagining of a world where the gender power rules have been inverted. Teenage girls are developing a skein as they hit puberty, which is attached to their collarbone. This skein then allows them to discharge an electric current, inflicting pain on their victims. They are also able to awaken this ability in older women, teaching them to discharge electricity as well. A reversal of power quickly ensues, with women taking the top position as world rulers.
The story is told through the characters Allie, Tunde, Roxy, and Margot, with a few others less often. They all occupy different social and geographical places in the world, which allows Alderman to show multiple perspective of the events as they unfold. The characters vary from a girl passed through the foster system, a mayor, a freelance journalists from ?, and a British gangster’s daughter. The use of characters if generally effective, although it has its limitations as I will discuss later.
WHY I LIKED THE POWER
The Power is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in a long time. The concept and idea Alderman is portraying is incredibly unique. Rarely do we read a novel where women have so convincingly wrestled power from men. The way Alderman plays it out and develops this idea is also superb. Without revealing too much of the ending, it ends in a different place to where I originally expected it to. This keeps the story interesting and Alderman cleverly avoids falling into clichés.
As a woman, I have often lamented that the world would be a much calmer, equal place if women were allowed control. Indeed, haven’t all the wars been started by men? Aren’t all dictators men? We are all guilty of blithely saying ‘women would do it better.’ In reality, we haven’t really considered what this truly means. Alderman highlights how reductive this feminist view can be.
To call this a feminist novel is to do it a disservice. A number of reviews I have read tout The Power as a disciple of Atwood, following in her feminist dystopian fiction style. When I finished this book I didn’t still feel ‘women can do it better.’ Alderman ultimately presents power as the universal corrupting force. She posits that men have caused these atrocities and subjected women because they could. With the physical superior, they have naturally been at the top of the power pyramid. When Alderman inverts this, she quickly argues that women are just as quickly corrupted as the male predecessors.
WHY I DIDN’T LIKE THE POWER
My biggest problem with The Power is its style and tone. Alderman continually writes as if her intended audience were a group of teenagers. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing, but I found it a little difficult to truly engage with. Stylistically, it reminded me of Twilight. I’m not sure if this was intentional, or in fact Alderman is just isn’t a very sophisticated writer. I would be interested in reading her next book and seeing if this is just her style. I have also realised this is also a very personal thing; people I have spoken to haven’t really understood what I meant by this. I think perhaps studying literature as a graduate has changed my reading styles.
I am not the first person to draw this comparison, but Alderman reminds me a lot of Margaret Atwood. I’m probably going to cause some uproar, but I just don’t get Atwood. Or rather, I feel she isn’t as amazing as everyone else seems to! I have read a few of her novels and find them lacking. She has some excellent ideas, but I often feel she could execute them better. In other words, I don’t find myself obsessed with reading them. Alderman and Atwood strike me as incredibly creative, but not necessarly naturally-gifted writers.
I would say the same of Alderman. She has created a fantastic dystopian world and it’s incredibly unique. However, I don’t like the way it was carried out. Her characters are interesting, but nothing particularly deep. I can’t help but see it as a wasted opportunity.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Power. It’s a fantastic concept and unlike I have anything I have read in a long time. Alderman executes is relatively well. While the writing didn’t blow me away, the ideas discussed within it have left me thinking. Is power ultimately corrupting? Would women end up abusing it? Alderman subtly argues we need to start again on equal footing. Is this the only way to truly create equality between the genders?
Have you read The Power?
What did you think?
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