Given the rise of #MeToo, the timing of THE POWER is uncanny. Whether you’re in alignment with that movement or not, surely you’ve fantasized—at least once in your life, right?—about what would happen if the high heels were on the other feet. In this new novel, we see how swapping shoes
will (oops) could play out when women have all the power.
In Naomi Alderman’s world, 15-16-year-old girls begin exhibiting a strange, electrifying new power. A skein mysteriously develops in the collar bone area, which generates electrical impulses and creates a “power grid” branching out through the body and down the limbs.
It gives teenagers—girls only—the capability of electrocuting anyone who threatens or simply irritates them. Yet a gentle shock from a girl can spur a skein’s growth in older women. In this way, the new energy is transmitted up the age ladder. Once they master its use, controlling for intensity and duration, girls and women come to realize the significance of their strength—they possess power to exert power.
Power over men.
At first, the new dynamic is amusing. Mansplaining is so over, and you’ll never again hear a man interrupt a woman mid-sentence—women do the interrupting now. Men begin to dress like women as a show of strength. In one particularly clever twist, a man stops on the street to show something to someone. “He starts to rummage through his satchel. A bunch of old receipts and empty packages of chips tumble out onto the asphalt”—a subtle mimicry of a woman rifling through her purse.
Alderman means to explore the corrosive effects of power whether exercised by men or women. For the most part, women continue working working within the existing system. Many, however, wish to be left alone to experience their new-found sense of freedom, while others want to establish complete independence from men. Eventually, and inevitably, things change for the worse—into something vastly more disturbing.
The novel shifts between four different characters, all with different life circumstances. Three are female: a big-city mayor, a sexually-abused orphan, and the daughter of a British crime boss. The fourth perspective is that of a male: a Nigerian journalist, a sort of Forrest Gump recording events as they unfold around the world. By following Tunde, we gain access to upheaval on a global scale.
Alderman trains her eye on both religion and politics, examining the way any institution can be perverted to control and direct vast numbers of people for its own ends. It makes no difference whether the gods or rulers are male or female.
This is a gripping and well-told story, with a clear-eyed, if not pessimistic, vision about the uses and abuses of power—no matter who wields it. Characters are richly drawn, and though the plot falters toward the end (contrived, even rushed), on the whole, the novel is riveting—and devastating. Highly recommended.
By the way, pay attention to the name of the male correspondent in the series of letters that frame the novel. Play around with the letters in his name. Look at the hint in the very last line of the novel—”have you considered publishing this book under a woman’s name?”
A former college English instructor, Molly developed LitLovers after teaching an online literature course several years ago. It was so much fun—even the students loved it—that she decided to take it public. If Molly’s not working on LitLovers, she’s sleeping.