For anyone who has their ear on the ground about feminist reads or new books by female authors, this is probably pretty well-known, especially since it won Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2017. I thought this would be the perfect book to fill that Handmaid’s Tale shaped gap in my life since the end of the TV series and finishing the book – especially as Margaret Atwood mentored Alderman for this book!
It all begins when teenage girls suddenly start developing this power – this ability to transmit electricity from their fingertips. As it is passed from woman to woman, the power at women’s fingertips suddenly starts to unbalance the power within the world, overthrowing dictatorships, rebelling against patriarchal structures and empowering women to take over from the oppression they’ve always experienced. The book follows four people coping with this new found power dynamic – Allie, a mixed race foster child; Roxy, the daughter of London’s biggest mob boss; Margot, an American middle-class politician stuck in a system full of men and Tunde, a Nigerian teenage boy seizing the opportunity to document the rise of The Power.
This book made me feel a lot of things. At different points throughout, I felt empowered, disgusted, saddened, angered and hopeful in ways I haven’t before in other books (as a side note, I’d be interested to hear whether women and men have different reactions to this book!).
The Power creates a world both so unlike and yet so similar to our own one now – I found myself thinking certain events unimaginable to some extent, but really at face value, any of the events in this book could happen if a group of people was given something extraordinary and powerful. The narrative has moments reminisce of the Arab Springs, ISIS terror attacks or even protests in recent years both here in the UK and in America. Regardless of motivation and the type of power – sci-fi or reality – Alderman puts a mirror up to our own world barely clothed with its sci-fi element.
The main two elements I loved about this novel was its characters and its complexity. Its characters all felt equally well-developed and rich – their individual narratives all getting equal time to one another. No narrative feels less important than another, which I feel is something had to do when you have a multitude of narratives interlaced with one another.
The word ‘rich’ truly defines what I loved about this book – its characters, its plot, its writing had such a depth to them that allowed the book to explore so many themes and their relationship to one another from gender equality and its unbalances to rape culture, religion and the role of government in a way I didn’t find too preachy.
My only criticism is that, while I took a way a lot from this novel, for me, it was not clear exactly what Alderman wanted to get across as the ending just finishes very suddenly and ambiguously. Maybe that is the point or maybe it is open for your own interpretations based on your own experiences – who knows. However, I think the problem for me here lies in its framing as a history book which felt a little unnecessary by the end – I felt it would have been just as good without.
I don’t think this is a book that everyone would like for its choppy narrative and, at times, its global setting tends to lean on stereotypes potentially in its representation. This was a hard book to review because it was hard to put my finger on why I liked it so much. Ultimately, I have not enjoyed a book like this in a long old while and it was refreshing to read an absorbing, complex and rich narrative without feeling a little overwhelmed.
I give it a 5 out of 5