The Power by Naomi Alderman

Image result for the power by naomi aldermanThe Power by Naomi Alderman is a high-concept novel in which women develop a mysterious and lethal physical ability to deliver severe electric shocks. At first, women use their power to rise up against abusers and oppressive patriarchal societies as governments fall. But soon, female-centred religions are being established, men live in fear of assault, armies are entirely female, organised crime is run by women and in some countries, new regimes have sprung up in which men are treated much as women were treated by the Taliban, denied all rights and risking public execution for the smallest of transgressions. There are some truly chilling and uncomfortable moments in which men suffer humiliation and violence (sometimes sexual) at the hands of women, although it's worth remembering that most of us barely bat an eyelid when this sort of thing happens to women in fiction, whether it's a blockbuster novel or a TV drama.

The story is topped and tailed by a series of letters between a male writer and his female editor, supposedly written 5,000 years after the present day, which position The Power as a controversial historical novel that seeks to challenge established 'truths' about women and men in a world where it's believed that a society ruled by men never existed and women have always possessed the ability to electrocute at will. These letters are subtly satirical and cleverly written as well as providing additional context, and in a way I'd rather the rest of the book was more like them, as the tone of the main narrative didn't quite work for me.

It has the structure (and in many ways the style, particularly when it comes to the dialogue, which I found pretty clunky at times) of an international thriller, complete with secret military training camps set up by an unscrupulous US politician, a coup which results in an evil super-villain taking over Moldova, a drug-smuggling operation run by East End gangsters straight from a Martina Cole novel, a religious cult headed by an abused teenager who styles herself as 'Mother Eve' and a handsome young journalist who gets caught up in it all. The problem is that none of the point-of-view characters are sufficiently three-dimensional for me; while they all represent something I often found it hard to see them as people rather than plot devices or symbols, particularly as I got further into the book: after being completely gripped by the first one-third of the story, I found myself feeling less and less engaged as it progressed. I also felt there were sections that dragged: if you tell your story with the structure and plot elements of a thriller, be sure that it has the pace of one too.

There are so many interesting ideas in The Power and so many interesting questions raised. Can there ever be true equality while one sex is constantly in fear of violence at the hands of the other? How can we believe history when for countless centuries it's been recorded primarily by only one half of the population? Why do people with power so often abuse it? However, while the concept behind this book is excellent, I just didn't feel fully on board with the execution of it here.