Gender Empowered, Powerless, and Powerful
What if women had power? Not political power, or cultural capital, but the real, raw physical power that arguably put men ahead in most societies at the dawn of civilization and has kept them there since? It would be a global revolution—an idea Naomi Alderman explores with grace, humor, and grit in The Power. Packed with lovable characters, surprising action, and an unnervingly believable depiction of how our social structures could fall apart with one simple change, this is one of the best books I’ve read in years.
Framed with letters written in a future where women have all the power (in an apologetic, self-debasing tone I found instantly familiar—and totally foreign coming from a man), and structured as a countdown year by year, The Power is told through four points of view (including one token male) at four centers of power: government, religion, underworld, and media. Alderman deftly imagines how women low in each system would rise as females worldwide found the ability to physically intimidate men, and does it so believably that horror and giddy revolutionary zeal took turns gripping me as I read. Its title is apt: the stories are entirely about struggles for power, about ego and traditional gender power structures clashing with the new reality of this physical power women develop.
One of the things I love about the book is that it is not an escapist take back the power! kind of story, but a nuanced look at how this new power could (and likely would) be abused, in what ways women could take over the oppressive roles men once filled (including some awful scenes of sexual violence), and ends up a sort of cautionary tale (to say the least—avoiding spoilers) for how power will corrupt anyone, pushing us to think deeper about how it should be distributed and used in our own society.
If the book has one fault, it’s that it meanders at times. Four points of view can be a lot to manage, plus secondary characters, and the frame of going year by year toward some unknown end (that we begin to dread well before it becomes clear what it is) lends itself to individual story lines that at times meander more than they should. The strength of Alderman’s characters more than carries us through this.
So an enthusiastic 9.5 rating for The Power. Normally at the end of reviews we qualify them by saying ‘if you’re looking for this’ or ‘if you’re interested in that,’ but no need with this book. If you live in a world were genders are unequal, you will find this interesting. Unless you are ideologically lodged in your current gender role and don’t want to question it--in which case you probably should read this book. The Power is thought-provoking entertainment at its finest.