The Power by Naomi Alderman


After a month focussing on my novel, I’m back to blogging. While I was gone I also discovered I was a book vlogger, something I hope to do more of in the new year. If you haven’t seen any of my videos, head over to Authors QH or follow my you tube channel. Here’s my review of The Power:

I’ve not read any Naomi Alderman before and I found this book thoughtful and wry.

It begins with a series of letters from Neil to his fellow writer friend, Naomi.

Neil is writing a novel reimagining the history of the world before what is referred to as ‘the cataclysm’, a war that wiped the world clean of civilisation requiring human beings to start again. All knowledge of the world before the cataclysm has been interpreted through the eyes of the current dominant hegemony, a maturing matriarchy led by women who are more powerful than men because they can generate electricity, like electric eels. The women of this society behave in much the same way as men have done throughout our own history.

Neil’s novel imagines the cataclysm as the byproduct of women developing their electric power. For him the novel is based on a reinterpretation of the small number artefacts uncovered from before the cataclysm. He sends the book to Naomi asking for her thoughts and suggestions. This is the novel that we then go on to read.

At the end of Neil’s book we are given Naomi’s responses in further correspondence between the two writers. She finds it extremely unlikely that patriarchy would be anything like matriarchy, given the more nurturing and sensitive tendencies of men – women have always been more aggressive due to the need to protect their young – and suggests Neil might do better to sell the book under a woman’s name.

In a way, I’ve already said too much. You can see where the novel derives its humour and while I feel disappointed that the plot outcomes don’t lead in more unusual directions, in a way this is part of the message of the book. It is almost impossible to have power and not be affected by it, even if you chose not to use it, the potential is there. You behave differently and ultimately, you think differently. Your interpretive skills are bound by a particular perspective that makes you blind to others.

The Power is a fun and fast-paced read that explores the fluid nature of gender in the face of strength. I would have liked some more reflection on how these ideas might provoke change in the current world order – for example, there is no mention of infant childcare or breastfeeding in the novel and I wonder whether these things would have any impact on a wider matriarchal society even if the women do wield ultimate electric power – but instead there is more of a sense of defeatism. Survivalism is our ultimate drive, civilisation a controlling force and society doomed to favour certain people over others.

Despite this rather depressing message, The Power would be a good book to take you away from the stresses of the festive period and the odd patriarchal grope at the office Christmas party. Read it for yourselves and see what you think. There is still a lot of intriguing and amusing detail I’ve left out of my review. To whet your appetite: reimaginings of the Virgin Mary and the feminisation of God; meticulous anatomical description of how and where electric power can be generated in the human body.

Next week I’m reading The North Water by Ian McGuire. So far, the only women in it are whores. It is still a visceral bloody world, but it is a very male one.

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