After two months reading an 850 page book of a man's philosophy on his life, I needed something punchy, relatively short and FEMININE. This is when I picked up The Power by Naomi Alderman. This dystopian sci-fi first came across my bookstore counter at the end of last year when a class set was ordered by a local girls' high school (who have an incredible English department). Then it flickered my interest again when it was shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.
On page one, we’re told we’re reading The Power: A Historical Novel by Neil Adam Armon, a researcher 5,000 years in the future. The story is narrated by four characters in a now-ish time period. We meet Roxy, a young daughter of a London gang boss. Then we meet Allie, an American foster child on the run. And there’s Margot, a middle aged American politician on the rise. Then we meet our only male voice, Tunde, who is a Nigerian journalism student. We are introduced to these characters with the text “Ten years to go” – ten years until what? As a reader, we’re not yet sure.
Roxy is one of the youngest at 14 and “one of the first.” When she and her mother are attacked by two unknown men in their home, she “feels the thing like pins and needles along her arms… she’s glittering, inside.” Roxy grabs one of the men by the arm and electrocutes him to the ground, leaving scarring up his arm. This inciting incident happens in the first chapter, and the speeding pace of the plot does not slow down.
Roxy is not alone with her newfound ability. Young women around the world are also discovering their electric power and are passing it on to other women. The women come together to finely hone and craft their power to become stronger and more concise. The internet is awash with memes and ‘how to’ videos on YouTube. Fox News is freaking out. Local governments are considering closing schools. Margot, our politician, thinks it’s all a joke until her daughter is caught electrocuting her male classmates. Allie finds solace in a convent and Tunde’s citizen journalism is being picked up by major networks.
The physical strength that women now have leads to a revolution of sorts – a flip in gender power. As it turns out, not all of the women use their power for good. This is a world where there are no heroes. Alderman makes it clear that a complete reversal of gender dominance wouldn’t fix the world’s problems. This is definitely a story where everyone is at fault and the portrayal of villain and victim change and morph.
Alderman’s structural style of telling the story from the four different narrators is a clever tactic to gain a broader view of the epidemic. We read The Power not only in a traditional narrative structure but also by reading forums, diagrams and archival documents.
The book falls short though with how much it tries to squeeze into its structure. Ten year increments are told in only 30-40 pages. I felt like the story could have been more fleshed out. Truthfully, I wish there was more character development and less action. However, this need will be well fulfilled with a TV series made by Sister Pictures (who co-produced Broadchurch). Alderman is currently set to write and executive produce the series.
It’s undeniable that there’s a Margaret Atwood feeling to the novel. About 50 pages in, I looked up more about the author and book (tentatively, to avoid spoilers) and I found out Alderman was mentored by Atwood while writing The Power. It’s also a timely release with the resurgence of The Handmaid’s Tale popularity due to the TV series.
I read The Power with a sense of urgency. It immersed me in a feeling of discomfort for most of it. But in a way, it was the provocation of the plot and the characters that kept me reading. It was the question of, What could happen in a world where men lose their hold on dominance and authority? Would women truly bring the utopian peace we would expect?