By naomi alderman
Suddenly - tomorrow or the day after - girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, the four lives at the heart of Naomi Alderman's extraordinary, visceral novel are utterly transformed, and we look at the world in an entirely new light.
After reading The Power the only word I can use to describe it is fantastic. As a massive fan of Margaret Atwood’s books I can see that the comparisons will be numerous and well-deserved. Like Atwood the author uses a clever combination of real world events and her own imagination, the result is a book that will stay with me for a long time after I have read the last page.
This book examines how the world would work if power was solely in the hands of women with surprising results. Teenage girls discover they have a muscle in their body called a ‘Skein’ which gives them the power to cause agonising pain or death with their hands. Seemingly overnight girls begin attacking boys and other girls at school and women everywhere begin to fight against oppressive regimes and misogynistic practices.
The book focuses on the effects of the Power on ordinary people via the interlinked stories of four people: Tunde, Allie, Roxy and Margot. Tunde is a rich Nigerian boy who is hanging out by the pool one day when he experiences his first glimpse of the new power. Allie is a foster girl with a difficult relationship with her foster parents. Roxy is a tough girl from a notorious London family. Margot is an American politician with a vested interest in how those with the power are handled.
The opening pages of the book reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale as both contain an academic debate on some element of history. In the case of this book a number of emails between Naomi and Neil discussing a book Neil is writing.
Neil informs her that he has “put in some terrifically troubling stuff about Mother Eve…but we all know how these things work! Surely no one will be too distressed…everyone claims to be an atheist now anyway. And all the ‘miracles’ really are explicable.”
Naomi responds that she thinks she would enjoy a world run by men and that is would make for “a kinder, more caring and – dare I say it? – more sexy world than the one we live in.” Both this and the above comment instantly brought up questions for me: Who was Mother Eve and Why is Naomi giving men qualities traditionally associated with women?
I like books that present me with more questions than answers and this book certainly fell into this category, for example, the chapter headings which read things like “Ten years to go.” What is going to happen in ten years?
I found the characters very well developed and intriguing in this novel. I like the way each character had their secrets hopes, fears and desires.
We are first introduced to Roxy when she is locked in a cupboard by some men who have come to kill her mum. Roxy manages to escape the cupboard but is spotted. “The short one’s pushed her mum up against the fireplace. Roxy feels it start to build up in her then, though she doesn’t know what it is. It’s just a feeling at her finger’s ends, a prickle in her thumbs.”
Roxy’s mum yells at her to run but Roxy’s instinct is to fight like she has in the past. “Roxy doesn’t run from fights at school. If you do that, they’ll never stop saying, ‘Your mum’s a slapper and your dads a crook. Watch out, Roxy’ll nick your book.’ You’ve got to stomp them till they beg. You don’t run.”
The descriptions of the Power being used are fascinating, “Something’s happening. The blood is pounding in her ears. A prickling feeling is spreading along her back, over her shoulders, along her collarbone. It’s saying: you’re strong.”
“Roxy feels the thing like pins and needles along her arms. Like needlepricks of light from her spine to her collarbone, from her throat to her elbows, wrists, to the pads of her fingers. She is glittering, inside.”
“There’s a crackling flash and a sound like a paper snapped. She can smell something a bit like a rainstorm and a bit like burning hair. The short man is on the floor now. He’s moaning a crooning wordless cry. His hand is clenching and unclenching. There’s a long, red scar running up his arm from his wrist. She can see it even under the blond hairs: its scarier, patterned like a fern, leaves and tendrils, budlets and branches.”
“Roxy is fourteen. She’s one of the youngest, and one of the first.”
Tunde is probably one of my favourite characters as he enables the reader to view the changes from a man’s point of view. Tunde’s chapter begins with his own experience of someone using the power. A few months later whilst in a grocery store he witnesses a young girl use her power on a man after he harasses her and he records it on his phone. The video goes viral and for the rest of the book Tunde documents the social and political changes occurring around the world.
Margot’s chapter introduces her as the Mayor and involves her discussion with the Governor as to whether she should close the schools or not to prevent the violence against boys which has been occurring more frequently.
When we are introduced to Allie she is sat smoking on a tomb with a bunch of boys. Sneaking back in to her foster home she is confronted by her foster dad. During the ensuing scene we learn that she has a voice in her head telling her how to control her ability and eventually leading her to a nunnery.
“Someone asks Allie what happened to her, and she knows she can’t give her real name. She calls herself Eve and the voice says: Good choice, the first of women; excellent choice.”
The voice says to her, “If the world didn’t need shaking up, why would this power have come alive now? Allie thinks: God is telling the world that there is to be a new order. That the old way is overturned….There is need for a prophet in the land. Allie thinks, But who? The voice says, just try it on for size.”
“Eve says, ‘So I teach a new thing. This power has been given to us to lay straight our crooked thinking. If it is Mother not the Son who is the emissary of Heaven. We are to call God ‘Mother.’ God the Mother came to earth in the body of Mary, who gave up her child that we could live free from sin. God always said She would return to Earth. And She has come back now to instruct us in her ways.” With this and a few other adjustments Eve is set up as the representative of God on earth and becomes the head of a new sort of religion in which women are all powerful.
Eve’s original plan is to “save the women…I want to reach them and tell them that there are new ways to live now. That we can band together, that we can let men go their own way, that we don’t need to stick to the old order, we can make a new path.”
As the book progresses small changes occur in the balance of power to ensure that men become the weaker and more docile of the sexes. Small injustices begin to occur initially but then through Tunde’s reports we learn of greater atrocities occurring against men. The atrocities committed are all the more shocking when you think that in some parts of the world these atrocities are committed daily against women.
This is easily one of the best books I have read this year.
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