“Roxy feels the thing like pins and needles along her arms. Like needle-pricks of light from her spine to her collarbone, from her throat to her elbows, wrists, to the pads of her fingers. She’s glittering, inside.”
“Margot waits to see Jos do something; hold her breath, or wrinkle her brow, or show exertion in the muscles of her arm, but there’s nothing. Only the pain.”
The Power by Naomi Alderman is one of those books that people are going to be talking about and analyzing decades from now. As I read, I was struck almost immediately by how clearly, how perfectly, The Power fit into a very short list of culturally relevant, beautifully written, “social criticism as dystopian fiction” works. This is this decade’s answer to The Handmaid’s Tale and Never Let Me Go, and carries as much meaning, as much depth of social awareness, as much horror, and as much lovingly created characters as Atwood’s and Ishiguro’s genre-defining works.
“I’ve seen audience’s eyes go blank as I try to explain my research. So what I’ve done here is a story of hybrid piece, something that I hope will appeal more to ordinary people. Not quite history, not quite a novel. A sort of “novelization” of what archeologists agree is the most plausible narrative.”
This, then, is the lens through which we should read The Power.
As a story, it follows four POV characters across the world and through time, from before the event through years of political and social upheaval to, well, a conclusion – of sorts. These are real people, whose feelings and experiences are believable, understandable, and moving, even as they’re otherworldly and at times surreal. This, I believe, is Alderman’s superpower as an author. She writes these characters so skillfully that their experiences become our experiences, and we live in The Power‘s changing world through these glimpses into their lives.
That is not to say that this was an easy book to read. Not by a long shot.
Personally, I find the assumption that women would rule the world as violently and irresponsibly as men have to be reductive and insulting to humanity in general, but The Power sidesteps almost all of that through sheer force of artistry. Still, it’s there, both in the way the world deals with “the event” and in male and female actions and reactions. It rears its head for the first time at the end of the prologue, and more than once I had to remind myself of the layers of intentional perspective you have to read this book through. Alderman wields perspective like a deadly weapon, and cleaved my calm in two.
Also, it has to be noted just how much of a factor it is that I was reading this book at this time in this place. As a white woman living in America in the time of Trump, I’m already overburdened by outrage and a yearning for feminist power. When (in the book) teen girls feel The Power coursing through their veins and urging them to strike, I feel it too. And when I read news stories of yet another powerful man and his history of (unpunished) abuse toward women, or I’m reminded of all the abuses I and my female friends and family have suffered, I cannot help but think of The Power. And I understand how tempting it would be to use it to burn everything down – to remake the world.
Simply put, in Naomi Alderman’s The Power we see how true the adage is that “Pain shapes a woman into a warrior.”
** I would like to take this opportunity to openly acknowledge the inherent hypocrisy in me daring to praise any book by calling it “the next” anything. It’s true, I do normally cringe when I see these comparisons. But with Alderman’s The Power, it’s just so simply clearly the right comparison I could make no other choice.