The Power (2017) by Naomi Alderman is another book recommended by President Obama. Again, I had no idea what it was about going into it, but I’m really glad I read it. Not only does it give me something to talk about with Obama if I ever happen to run into him [very likely], but I thought it was interesting and thought-provoking.
The Power begins five thousand years in the future. Neil Armon just wrote a book and is getting feedback from a fictional Naomi Alderman. They live in a world that is matriarchal and women have the more powerful roles. Neil’s draft is an imagining of how women came to be in the superior position. His book begins in our present day, where, around the world, young women are developing a “skein” near their collarbone that allows them the power to electrically shock with their hands. Reactions very drastically between people and countries as men and women confront this new ability. There is fighting between adolescent girls, and there are attacks on men and boys. “Already there are parents telling their boys not to go out alone, not to stray too far.” The most violent uprisings occur in Moldova where there is a large amount of sex trafficking of women.
There are five or six characters that tell the story from different perspectives and show what is going on throughout the world. Allie is an American girl who was abused by her foster father. She kills him and goes on to start a new feminist religion based on her powers. Roxy is the daughter of an English mafia head. She is incredibly powerful and eventually travels to the United States and befriends Allie. The two make a very strong partnership.
Margot Cleary is an American politician when the skein is woken in her by her daughter, Jocelyn. “Younger girls awaken it in older women. This is the Devil working in the world, passing from hand to hand as Eve passed the apple to Adam.” At first Margot hides her power because it is not acceptable, but as the skein becomes more accepted, Margot becomes Governor and uses her power to help girls control their power as well as make herself more successful.
Tunde is an African journalist who makes his name documenting the emergence of the skein and it’s effect on politics and populations throughout the world. He is, probably, the most sympathetic character in the book. He is both hurt and saved by women throughout the book. “At first we did not speak our hurt because it was not manly. Now we do not speak it because we are afraid and ashamed and alone without hope, each of us alone. It is hard to know when the first became the second.”
I have a lot of thoughts about this book. First, it was fascinating to explore a world where women had a physical advantage. This is especially true when it came to sex. Women could use their skein to make sex more fun and exciting if used gently, or they could literally torture or kill a man if they chose. Women can also force men to get erections, which can become incredibly painful. The skein suddenly puts men in a position where they have to trust women not to physically hurt them. I imagine this perspective could be eye-opening to many.
Second, this book is not a fairy tale of how great a world we would have if women were in charge. Instead, it says that people will do whatever they can to use their power and to get power. The women in this story are not necessarily evil, but they are shaped by their backgrounds and their needs. When they gain power, they use that power to their own advantage and try to get more. Even if they started out with good intentions, bad results occur. I don’t like power and I often did not like these characters. This book quickly became very painful to read.
Finally, Alderman really made me think about nature versus nurture. Would women really turn out to be so power hungry and violent? Personally, I don’t think things would turn out just like this, but human nature and power may be more significant than gender differences. I’m glad I read this one and would recommend it.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.