Author: Naomi Alderman
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Feminist
Read: Feb. 2018
Execution is the key word for The Power. I’ve been dying to read this book since it first came out, but I’ve been seeing it get some mixed reviews and now I can understand why. This book had such a great premise, but I think it was a bit of a miss on the execution, which is so disappointing.
The Power is a dystopian, science fiction novel in which women have developed the power to basically electrocute people and things using their hands. They can take down electrical grids, burn trees and structures, and kill people using the power. The book is told from the point of view of a male historian recounting the events of when women first gained the power. Girls start developing the power at 15 and can awaken it in other women. Their power comes from a skein in their collarbones that all women have, but has never been awakened until now.
As you can imagine, women suddenly developing this power totally flips gender dynamics and this book focuses on the perspectives of 3 women and 1 man from different parts of the world. There’s Margot, an American mayor; Allie, a teenage runaway; Roxy, daughter of a British drug dealer; and Tunde, a Nigerian boy turned reporter. The book definitely had a strong start and I was super into it at the beginning, but I got a bit frustrated as things progressed because I felt like the author lacked an obvious theme or direction. I feel like she had a lot of different ideas and themes and sadly, I thought they were poorly executed and took away from the story. I think she needed a more focused direction.
My biggest struggle is that I just don’t know what the central theme is. Is it that this reversal in gender dynamics just ends up with a reversal of male/female roles? Or that even if women developed the ability to electrocute men, it would still be a huge struggle for them to gain power and men would be just as destructive towards women as they’ve always been? Is the author’s point that power can turn anyone into a monster? That women are just as vicious and oppressive as men have been and don’t deserve power? Or is she just trying to help men better understand the ways they currently harm and hurt women and how obvious these inequalities become through a simple reversal of gender roles?
Maybe I’m too dense to figure it out, but I feel like Naomi Alderman was trying to make all these points, which is why the book fell flat. There are definitely authors out there who can address this many ideas in a novel, but I feel like you need some kind of central theme and that the writing got overwhelmed by the ideas in this book and they just all lacked development. I don’t think the author needed to connect the multiple viewpoints the way that she did in this book. The characters seem to just randomly come across each other and help out each other’s storylines, but I felt that instead it made each individual storyline more disjointed and less impactful.
Disclaimer, the rest of this review contains spoilers. Usually I try and avoid spoilers, but I feel like I need to include them in order to properly discuss this book, so don’t read any further if you’re planning to read this book.
First off, let’s look at some of the things that I liked. I liked the scenes about the Men’s Rights movements and the internet trolls and bombings. They felt very real to me and I had no trouble believing we’d see this kind of backlash if women gained this power. I kind of expected the development of the power to switch gender roles a lot faster than it did, but I felt Alderman’s portrayal of this slow cling to power by men to be very believable. It’s got to be devastating to go from holding all the power to suddenly losing it and becoming oppressed and I have no doubt men would fight back and fight back violently (especially since women were also using violence).
I also liked the uprisings by women and the seedy underside of how some women choose to use their power. I really liked Margot’s story at the beginning, but then I was disappointed to see her basically left out of the second half of the novel. In contrast, I wasn’t really into Tunde’s story at the start, but ending up thinking he had one of the most meaningful storylines by the end of the book.
On the other side, I did not like Allie’s story at all and I only liked a few select parts of Roxy’s story. Allie’s story just felt like a total tangent with the whole religious revolution. I absolutely believe something like this could happen, but I just didn’t think this storyline fit in with the rest of the novel. It reminded me a little bit of the religious zealots in Station Eleven, which is a post-apocalyptic book in which 90% of the world population is killed by one virus. But I think this whole storyline just watered down the themes of the rest of the book and I hated that Roxy got involved because then I just had to read twice as much about it.
I thought Roxy’s story had such a strong start. It was so dark and I couldn’t wait to see where the author would take it, but I really didn’t dig the whole soldier aspect and based on what happened later, didn’t see that point of including it at all. The only other part of Roxy’s story I really liked was the skein removal scene, which was super horrific for an imaginary medical procedure. I felt so bad for Roxy, but it was such a powerful commentary on the lengths men were willing to go to maintain their power
The scenario that plays out in this book could obviously develop in so many different ways and I did like some of the contrasting events that Alderman explores. I thought it was really cool that it was the developing countries where women rose up first to fight back against their oppressors, whereas in America and Great Britain, men did whatever they could to retain power and women did less to fight back and in Margot’s case, actually hid her power. I also liked the contrast between the scene where Darrell first uses Roxy’s power and the other girls rise up against him to protect Jocelyn, whereas in the Romanian jungle, the women were actively hunting down any man, woman, or child who stood in their way and seemed to have no sense of compassion or bond with other women.
I loved Tunde’s story because of that feeling of total powerlessness at the end of the novel. He’s always had an exit plan and then the total despair of being betrayed by those closest to you and watching your life work stolen from you is just devastating. And to then be trapped in the middle of a female revolution with no way to fight back? That had to be so terrifying and I just wanted men to read that to try and understand the oppression and fear so many women feel at the hands of men.
I can see this book being both powerful and dangerous. Powerful because it makes a statement about the inequalities women face and reversing them to affect men can be powerful in helping men to empathize with women. There were so many small but meaningful nuggets at the beginning, like where mothers were talking about how they wouldn’t let their sons out alone on the streets because of the danger of being attacked by women. My disappointment again was that I felt this theme could have been so much more powerful, but I felt like it kind of got lost throughout the novel. On the other side, I can see these ideas being dangerous in that I could see actual MRA’s taking it and saying, “see, look what could happen if we let women have power.”
I struggled with the format of the supposed historian telling this story. I didn’t buy it and I could have done without the whole thing. Why would a historian tell a story like this? I don’t think they would. I thought the letters at the end of the book between the historian and Naomi were fantastic, but again, just so confusing for the execution of this book!
I thought the main theme was going to be that with power, and given a long enough time, women essentially just become men. But in my opinion the actual novel didn’t really support this theme and I was super frustrated that the whole novel covers 10 years of history and then at the end we discover the story is actually being told 5000 years after the fact! The letters at the end totally support the theme that the power just eventually resulted in a total role reversal, but it felt so disjointed because this is not the theme I felt the rest of the novel was promoting.
I wonder if I’m maybe holding this book to a bit of a higher standard because of its relevance to modern day feminism, but I just feel it had so much more potential. In summary, I would give this 3.5 stars because it definitely makes you think a lot, but with more focus and better execution, I really think this could have been a 5 star read, which is why it felt so disappointing.