The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Power by Naomi Alderman has a premise too tempting for me to resist. Women all across the world begin to develop electrical powers, giving them the ability to fight back and zap down the patriarchy. With a glowing recommendation from Margaret Atwood, it sounded like my dream of a book, and with a wealth of Audible credits amassed, why not?

The audio was delightful, masterfully narrated by Alderman herself, Adjoa Andoh, Thomas Judd, Emma Fenney and Phil Nightingale. I’ve seen some reviews comparing the structure to World War Z (a huge personal favourite) but I didn’t feel it unfolded in a comparable manner. Perhaps if the story had been told as extracts from character Tunde’s book, charting the growth and development of the mysterious skein powers, but as it was it was a fairly standard multi-narrative, whose strands eventually wove together.

Our central characters are Roxy – a tough cookie from a London crime family, Ally – a runaway foster child around whom develops the cult of Mother Eve, Margo – a rising star in American politics, and Tunde – a budding journalist and our only male POV. I enjoyed spending time with Roxy and Tunde more than the others – they felt more real, grounded and fleshed out. Ally’s religious arc was unsettling but also a shade predictable, while Margo’s timeline seemed to move at lightning speed, meaning we never really settled in for long enough to get to know her properly.

The first half of the book contained some truly triumphant moments – women held captive as sex slaves passing the power from one to another, until they collectively overthrew their captors. Women taking back the streets from oppressive regimes. And everywhere, flowering, flourishing friendship and support between women. Of course it was too good to last.

When we were teenagers, my brother was obsessed with Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series. I remained politely baffled, and for much the same reason that The Power was ultimately puzzling to me. Both Blackman and Alderman pen stories in which seismic shifts have taken place – in Blackman’s universe, white people are considered inferior, while in Alderman’s, a matriarchy deposes the established patriarchy. And in both of these dystopias, the outcome proves worse than the status quo. Public hangings are the norm in Blackman’s world, while in Alderman’s, women contemplate literally nuking the Earth in order to rule over the ashes.

Overall, The Power was an engaging listen that I couldn’t wait to keep coming back to, but its conclusion left me somewhat cold. I’d absolutely be interested in reading more by Alderman in future.

[Read from 10-14 November 2016]

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