The Power – Naomi Alderman

This is the Mumsnet book club’s fiction choice for January. I started reading it without knowing what it was going to be about although I had a vague idea that it was a dystopian book of some kind.

It tells the story of four people, three women and one man, over several years when women develop “the power” which gives them a physical advantage over men and totally changes the balance of political and personal power in the world.

The first half is easy to get behind, reading about women who have been trafficked  as sex slaves using their power against the men who imprison them, or teenage girls using it to push away boys trying it on a little bit to far with them. You feel like getting behind them, and believing in what they are doing.

Then slowly everything gets darker, more violent. Seen through the eyes of the male journalist who is initially a strong supporter of these women but who discovers that being an attractive man in a world where women have all the power is not always a good thing, his views echo the path the book takes.

This is well written in most places, although I found the emails on the end pages a bit clunky and obvious, and the writing got a bit chaotic and lost steam towards the end almost as if the author did the same. This may have been for effect, for the story, but I wasn’t a fan of that part.

What the book did do well was leave me feeling confused, disturbed and even a little angry, not at the book, or the author or myself, just angry. It’s thought provoking and terrifying and as a woman really makes you think very hard about yourself deep down. There have been, and still are, countless atrocities against women simply because men have greater physical power. There is still an imbalance in society as a whole no matter how hard we work towards equality. The book makes you question though whether if women suddenly got a greater physical power would we be better leaders? Would we be less violent, more nurturing, more peaceful. Or would we in fact commit as many attrocities on men as we could, simply because we could.

I don’t know whether the book got the answer to that right. Lets face it, no one has the answer. After reading it though I feel less sure of my own views on this. This is one hell of a thought provoking book. At the end there is a footnote/comment about a couple of archeological finds mentioned in the book, this to sums up a lot about equality, and where we stand with it at the moment:

The book refers to an archeological find of a soapstone head as the Serving boy and a bronze female figure as the Priestess Queen. These are based on real archeological finds from a society which was probably fairly equal for men and women. The author writes:

despite the lack of  context, the archeologists who unearthed them called the soapstone head illustrated ‘Priest King’ while they named the bronze female figure ‘Dancing girl’. They’re still called by those names. Sometimes I think the whole of this book could be communicated with just this set of facts and illustrations.’

I think she’s right, but I’m still glad she wrote the book instead.

 

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