The Power by Naomi Alderman was announced as the overall winner for the 2017 prize tonight and luckily for me, it’s the only one from the shortlist that I actually read. Whoops.
I was watching Lauren Whitehead’s live Instagram feed when it was announced and everyone seemed really surprised this one won over Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing or Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s Stay With Me, which suggests to me that I at least need to give these two a read at some point. Despite not being able to review it in comparison to the rest of the shortlist, The Power is undoubtedly a book I would recommend, regardless of whether it had won or not. (The other three were First Love by Gwendoline Riley, The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan, and The Dark Circle by Linda Grant)
The basic premise is a novel set in the future and presented like a history. Young girls start to involuntarily unleash an ancient electrical power, making them physically stronger than men. What ensues is a complete 180 on how society is structured and an examination of what would happen if women had (quite literally) the power in the world.
Starting with the only real issue I had with it was that some of the scenes were described in graphic detail. I’m not sure if it’s just my personal reaction but I did squirm a few times and feel pretty uncomfortable. However, with a story like this, that’s probably what the author wanted – I mean, it’s not supposed to be a fluffy, comforting read.
It’s been compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and I guess I can see why in how it explores feminism through dystopia. The idea of physicality determining who controls society is an interesting suggestion; it implies that the reason we live in a patriarchy harks back to animalistic qualities such as strength rather than abstract, ‘civilised’ notions like money or education. I’m not sure if I agree with that being the only factor but it certainly made me consider exactly what defines power dynamics in modern day life.
You make think this seems like an awful lot to cover in just one novel and I’d agree with you there. The pacing was fast and we’re only offered snippets of the characters’ lives over a long period of time which I know a lot of reviewers have criticised. I actually thought this was incredibly clever of Alderman, as it meant she was able to cover the effects of the phenomenon in both individual communities and globally. Different societies react in different ways, from trying to tame the power in schools to a complete political breakdown. Once women are given a tool to fight with, the way they respond based upon their various life experiences was fascinating, and I don’t think the novel could have achieved that scope without shifting between narratives. The fact that I was thrown from perspective to perspective actually added to the escalating nature of the power, and flung me straight into the action. It was a smart stylistic device rather than a fault in pacing for me.
If you love feminism and/or speculative fiction, then why haven’t you picked this up already?! It’s a great one to fly through and it’ll keep you on your toes, because I was absorbed from page one to the final chapter.
Have you read any of the Baileys Shortlist? Who do you think should have won?