Book Review – Power by Naomi Alderman

When I saw this book on the Amazon Bestselling Books for June the tagline, ‘Hunger Games crossed with The Handmaid’s Tale’, made my mouth water. I am a massive fan of Margaret’s Attwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. I first came across the book during my A-level English Literature course and have been obsessed with the representation of Totalitarian states ever since. Alongside  George Orwell’s 1984 it is one of my all-time favourite books. I’m sure Jung would have something to say about my subconscious preference for this particular fiction sub-genre. See my recent take on – The Eye of Providence in Dystopian Fiction.

Naomi’s offering takes us away from how a totalitarian state controls its people and focuses instead, on what would happen if ordinary people suddenly had power. 

“It starts with a tingling in the fingers, a feeling of focus, of a change in the rhythm of the world, a pricking of the thumbs.”

However,  it is not just any ordinary people who have power; it is specifically women. In our society today, where women are still fighting for complete equality, what would happen if women were given the power to torture? Overnight, teenage girls awaken to find they have an electrical weapon at the tips of their fingers. They are now like electric eels; able to stupify and electrocute. The scales are turned as men now find themselves at the mercy of a revengeful, subdued gender. 

The story is told through four extraordinary and peculiar women whose world’s collide when the power enables them to break through the shackles that have detained them in their lives so far. Roxy is the daughter of a mobster, Allie an abused care kid, Tunde a thirsty journalist and Margot a politician. Each character is able to show a different facet of the newly created world order and pluck at the multiple strings of the distorted reality. 

The Power won the Baileys Prize for fiction which is admiral when you take into account that it is the first science fiction novel to achieve the accolade. But it is not surprising when you discover that the rights have already been sold for a TV series of fix or six seasons and that Alderman herself was a protegee of Margaret Attwood’s after partaking in her mentoring scheme for young writers. 

As much as I love the meat of the narrative. I can’t help but think the framing of the book is clunky. Alderman frames the novel like a historical recount including diagrams and identifying artefacts. However, this framing feels disjointed and unnecessary. I understand that Alderman was trying to make the metaphysical point that what if the history of mankind was re-written as a female dominated space? However, I feel this point is already made in the narrative of the gender-specific power and therefore, renders the framing of the novel irrelevant. 

I’m also unmade uneasy by the diction of the text. It is written in an extremely modern way complete with colloquial slang such as ‘babe’. I always have preferred books that soak up a thesaurus and show off the beauty of the archaic English language. However, this book does accurately reflect the way our youth talk to each other. I guess this meticulously mirrors our current reality and present evolution of the English language. Unashamedly, my preference is the diction of Dickens but I can still appreciate that Alderman’s book is extremely evocative of its own time.

If you like Attwood and you aren’t afraid to be confronted by a female dominated society then this is a cracking read. Undoubtedly, if the book were written upside down and the female acquisition of power was replaced suddenly with a male acquirement of power, it would read too close to home – a point Alderman makes strikingly well.

3 out of 5 stars

The Power: Winner of the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction

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Image sourced by Amazon.

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