Amazing concept. Brilliant execution. Clever social commentary. Great characters. Simply a must-read.
[Photo from Goodreads]
This is a story told from the future. It is told by a man who is documenting a change in history: the point at which women took over the world from men, when women developed an electrical power that allowed them to flip patriarchy upside-down. The narrator is writing as a part of this new matriarchal regime centuries down the line; he writes letters to Naomi Alderman, praising her, grovelling to her, flattering her, asking her advice, parodying the ways in which Alderman has obviously seen her female peers have to behave towards male colleagues and superiors in order to be successful. This framework is only one small piece of the modern feminist masterpiece that Alderman has created.
The narrative is split between four main characters: Roxy, a sometimes too-British daughter of a drug lord; Allie who takes on the persona of Mother Eve and leads a religious uprising; Margot who is the Mayor of a town in the US and whose daughter has problems with controlling her power; and Tunde, a male journalist who has to navigate himself through this new world. I found Tunde’s chapters to be the most interesting because they saw a male character experiencing the timidity and fear that as a woman I have all too commonly felt:
‘When he walked past a group of women on the road – laughing and joking and making arcs against the sky – Tunde said to himself, I’m not here, I’m nothing, don’t notice me, you can’t see me, there’s nothing here to see’
What this proved to me was that it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman who feels vulnerable, it’s the fact that someone does feel vulnerable, full stop. Even when Alderman is drawing a parallel between the savagery of some of the women – as corrupted by their new power, Roxy thinks ‘they do it because they can’ – and the stories of brutality we hear across the media as men exert their strength over women, the question of gender is second to the question of humanity.
To a certain extent then, this isn’t even a story about men and women but more simply about power and the human desire for it. As the famous saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Alderman often intriguingly combines the electrical power with other forms of power – political leadership, sex, parenting, media representation – and to really interesting effect as we see that it’s not about whether you’re male or female, but whether you can control your own power, or if you succumb to it. Alderman appears to critique not men or women individually as gender groups, but those who abuse their power and create unequal societies.
So why not the full five stars? The ending was disappointing for me; I feel like it really dialed back after building for so long and when I realised I was at the end I didn’t feel fully satisfied which was all the more disappointing because I had been so hooked. I wanted more, more, more. Nevertheless, this book will stay with me for a long time because of it’s originality and crisp, sharp intelligence.
Side note: after I read this book, I gave off like ten electric shocks in one day and then blew a fuse in the house by merely touching a plug socket. I have The Power.