It’s no secret that until recently a woman’s role in society was to be submissive, and when she dared to raise her voice she faced a barrage of criticism. I thought I’d post a review of a book I’ve just finished, that truly celebrates the power of a woman and the dangers of absolute power. (NOTE: Spoilers and Trigger Warnings)
The Power subverts all these expectations and stereotypes. In a future where young women around the globe suddenly gain the ability to generate electricity to injure or kill, this premise isn’t just literal in its conception, but an allegory for the powerful female driven political movements of recent times; Times Up, #metoo. It just takes that ‘spark’ to generate a revolution and The Power is a powerful and provocative exploration of how our world might change if the balance of power changed. The true meaning of life imitating art.
The Power starts with girls just entering their teens; a whole new metaphorical spin on ‘womenhood’. It starts with a tingling of their fingertips, the surging of electricity along their skeleton to the skein in the neck. As weeks turn into months turn into years, younger women with the Power awaken it in older woman, showing a true unity of sisterhood. It’s new, it’s exciting, but as it spreads and their power progresses men become hesitant and scared at the proverbial tipping of the scales.
The novel centres around four main characters; Roxy, the London born illegitimate daughter of a gangster; Allie, an abused foster runaway; Margot, a middle-aged politician whose daughter awakened her power; and Tunde, a budding reporter from Nigeria who captures the events on his phone. I found the last character an interesting choice, as Alderman clearly shows the effect that the Power has on those from all walks of life. Tunde is a male; an outsider looking in, watching through the lens of his camera as women of the world unite with equally admirable and devastating consequences.
It is clear that the phrase Absolute power corrupts absolutely plays a strong recurring role; in fear for their safety schools segregate boys and girls, attacks on men go viral on the internet, and there are some very disturbing sexual assaults on men that are more commonly associated with women. Women affected by sex-trafficking not only turn on their captors, but on those deliberately ignoring their abuse. Governments are brought to their knees by the revolutionary behaviour of women subjected to years of systematic abuse – both literally and figuratively.
Rather than highlighting a new wave of feminism, Alderman instead highlights the fundamental problems within our own society; and it isn’t gender, but just sheer power. This novel is an experiment; seeing the way that the male characters deal with their growing fears of the behaviour of the women is entirely reminiscent of every woman who has dealt with unwanted advances from a male assailant, the men actively avoiding women in the street could be every woman walking home alone at night.
At its foreground, Power is the root cause of the evil within both our world and Alderman’s fictional one: how we gain it, how we use it, and ultimately how we abuse it. It is very clear to see the source of this abuse within the novel; the novel’s women exacting revenge for the atrocities committed against them by men for years suddenly find themselves in possession of a ‘real’ power, a power that corrupts them the way that power corrupts men within our very real society.
As said by Tunde in the second half of 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 is alone. It is hard to know when the first became the second”. Whether it be casual sexism, sexual abuse or sexual brutality, The Power isn’t just a story about men and women but about control; how societal expectations teach us to behave and follow, but also to overlook and even accept.
Alderman subverts the power axis surrounding gender, but instead highlights a fundamental error that underlies the root cause, and gender is merely one small part of it. Whilst it is hinted at throughout, Alderman never fully explores how the Power affects other minorities within society; transgender and homosexuality (men who hold a dormant or weakened skein), or race (a black Nigerian man, a bi-racial American girl), which would definitely deepen the critique of power and oppression within our society. My one criticism of this novel.
Despite its bleak core, The Power really isn’t a bleak read. It has elements of The Handmaid’s Tale, but on a more modern and global scale. It’s clear that Alderman has been influenced by Atwood, yet somehow makes this dystopian future seem so real and – dare I say it – much more apocalyptic. This novel isn’t a woeful story about gender inequality; it holds a mirror up at the society we are currently living in and forces us to accept the very harsh realities for men and women all over the world.
Consider the President; he dominated the news with a campaign where he openly boasted about his belittling of women and women being seen to be nothing more than sexual fodder, who was then voted in by tens of thousands to a position of power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Look at how he then uses his Presidency to ‘tackle’ issues that challenge the fundamental rights of women? Now read about it in The Power, where Margot inadvertently uses her power against her male opponent, believes her campaign to be in ruins but somehow manages to win by a landslide vote? Alderman makes us think about aspects within our society that have always been wrong; by reversing our perceived norms she challenges us to question the way we see power and the traditional roles men and women play in society. Again, life imitates art.
As it stands, The Power is singularly one of the most thought-provoking critiques of gender and power I’ve ever read, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Yes it is a fictional novel, but it is written in such a way that it appears as historical fact; I found it more to be a critique of society than a fictional story. We see how the Power is used to overcome misogyny and the oppression of women, but in turn it exposes one very key question about the relationship between men and women: if we alter the balance of gender and end up in exactly the same place, isn’t there always going to be a greater issue beyond our control? An issue that will always lead to predator and prey?