Review: 'The Power' by Naomi Alderman

In the run-up to the winner of the 2017 Baileys Prize being announced on June 7th, Becky Lea reads her way through the longlist and offers her thoughts.

Baileys Prize 2017 The Power Naomi Alderman

The realm of speculative fiction has long offered a playground for women writers to critique and examine the world around them. From Herland to the Republic of Gilead, authors have held up a dark reflection of social behaviours to illustrate the gender politics that women are forced to navigate, the inherent contradictions, and the oppressive nature of a world dominated by men.

Naomi Alderman’s brilliant The Power is the latest in this longstanding tradition and one which carries just as much bite as its forebears. One day, teenage girls find that they have developed the power, a spark that they can channel and unlock in older women. As the power spreads across the world, the status quo shatters, up-ending centuries of male supremacy and throwing society into new and dangerous political waters.

I can’t deny that there is a certain thrill in watching men suffer trivial behaviours such as condescension and dismissal, knowing how many women are subjected to this on a day to day basis. The framing letters of the book are a classic example of this, provoking a wry smile when a phrase is written to a man that is so commonly found in correspondence to women. Alderman plays with that humour well throughout the novel. Any woman who has been on the receiving end of such comments will recognise them instantly.

The Power Naomi Alderman

Yet there is a dark heart at the centre of this book and Alderman lays down some cold truths about the nature of power and the consequences of flipping the status quo. The old adage tells us that absolute power corrupts absolutely and it is this dynamic that is played with the moment the women start being able to electrocute people at will. How far will women go to keep hold of their newfound superiority? How far will men go to get theirs back?

It’s a bracing, fascinating read and one which doesn’t shy away from presenting the nastier elements at work in a world where the power dynamics are reversed. Though that wry sense of humour continues throughout the book, there is always the niggling question underneath: “How would you behave in this world?”