Book Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

It follows that there are two ways for the nature and use of human power to change. One is that an order might issue from the palace, a command unto the people saying “It is thus.” But the other, the more certain, the more inevitable, is that those thousand thousand points of light should each send a new message. When the people change, the palace cannot hold. As it is written: “She cuppeth the lightening in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.”

The Power by Naomi Alderman is an archetypal speculative fiction that challenges the notion of power dynamics and gender roles. Imagining the events leading up to a feminist coup that flipped the patriarchy on its head, Alderman constructs a worldwide revolution that results in a future matriarchal society. While this idea sounds pleasant to the ears of most feminist advocates in the current U.S. political climate, Alderman’s rendering of these events highlights the corruption of absolute power; thereby putting into stark relief the desperate need for gender equality.

Is it very shocking? Too hard to accept that anything of this sort could ever have been the case, no matter how far back in our history? Is there anything I can do to make it all seem more plausible? You know what they say about “truth” and “the appearance of truth” being opposites.

The story opens in the epistolary style with letters between a historian, Neil, attempting to write a book theorizing the particular phenomenon that lead to the current society and a fictional Naomi who offers constructive criticism and disbelief at the possibility of a former patriarchal society. Through this book-within-a-book we are then transported back to the beginning of the revolution, the development of this profound and dangerous power and the ways it both empowered and devastated the women of the world.

Roxy feels the thing like pins and needles along her arms. Like needle-pricks of light from her spine to the collarbone, from her throat to the elbows, wrists, to the pads of her fingers. She’s glittering, inside.

The novel is comprised of four narratives: Roxy, a cunning and tough daughter of a mobster who proves instrumental during the rise of the revolution; Allie, an orphaned girl who was subjected to numerous horrors and found salvation in her novel ability, vowing to share her knowledge and faith with other lost girls; Margot, a career politician on the rise, struggling to balance the threat of power development in girls and women alike with her desire for more traditional political power; and lastly, the narrative is rounded out with the sole male voice, Tunde, a journalist who provides reports from the front lines, chronicling the panic, fear and violence the comes in the early days of the uprising.

Tunde records it all in careful note and documentations. He adds, “There is a scent of something in the air, a smell like rainfall after and long drought. First one person, the five, the five hundred, then villages, the cities, the states. Bud to bud and leaf to leaf. Something new is happening. The scale of the thing has increased.”

Spreading like wildfire, with the igniting point being teenaged girls, this electrical mastery quickly overtakes the world. Possessing a new-found ability to control and intimidate, women become drunk with their improved status. This initial ruling is tyrannical—no better than the society they fought so hard to overthrow. What is soon realized is the need for a more peaceful means of transformation, lest the violence supersede the cause. It is through this notion Alderman makes her premise clear: gender equality is paramount.

Deftly imagined, The Power is a timely feminist tale that is both thrilling and perceptive. Highlighting the current status quo through a hyperbolic insurrection, we are able to understand the current obstacles obstructing gender equality in the 21st century.

These things are happening all at once. These things are one thing. They are the inevitable result of all the went before. The power seeks its outlet. These things have happened before; they will happen again. These things are always happening.

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A review copy of this title was provided by Little Brown and Co

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

  1. I’ve seen so many reviews of this but I’m still undecided, mainly because I’m not good with violent scenes. But it’s keeping on going and sparking (ha) a lot of interest and discussion, which is great.

    Liked by 1 person

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