On the face of it, The Power is a work of science fiction, a tale of the world as we know it being turned upside down as an electrical power is awoken in women across the world, allowing them to discharge electricity, and with it pain and control, from their fingertips. Pretty soon, women rule the world and men are living in fear.
But it’s important not to let what could be a gimmicky, dystopian tale put people off – underneath, this book is so much more. Alderman controls the ‘gimmick’ by making her narrative mature and real. Although there are high power scenes of the damage and carnage the power can wreak, a sub-plot about a drug smuggling bad-ass of and a narcissistic politician’s rise to power despite a multitude of faux-pas (hello, 2017) where the story comes into its own is when Alderman delves into society.
The geopolitical setting to this story is great and Alderman paints the changes in different types of societies well. As women realise that the only thing between their freedom and men controlling them is whether or not they put to use the electric charge running through their veins, the world starts changing – and fast. In the West boys and girls are separated at school. Soon the Power is seen as an attractive thing to have, and girls whose Powers aren’t as strong as others feel ashamed. Electric charges are used to help advertise beauty products, soft drinks. Faith for the old prophets starts to waver, and the pious now pray to Mary, not Jesus. Elsewhere, the oppressive Saudi Arabian regime with its appalling treatment of women as second class citizens is brought crippled to its knees, where it deserves to be. Women in Moldova imprisoned and used as sex slaves are set free, and Queens take to their thrones.
Of course power corrupts, and so this was never going to be a magical utopia with Alderman trying to paint a world run by women as harmonious and happy. It isn’t, it is simply inverted. Gender inequality doesn’t lead to good things, regardless of which gender is oppressed.
One of them says, ‘Why did they do it?’
And the other answers, ‘Because they could.’
That is the only answer there ever is
Here is where Alderman’s sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant points of detail really made the book for me. From a female publisher asking a male writer to write under a female pseudonym to be a more attractive prospect to men in Moldova needing to register a female guardian and not being able to travel alone and young boys being ‘curbed’ by electricity in order to restrict their sexual pleasure, the Power used by gangs of women to rape, then murder men, a male journalist walking in the night wondering if he’ll get home safely – each of these events are shocking and disturbing, especially in the casual way Alderman refers to them, sometimes in passing as if it’s no big deal. The reader is appalled. And then, the reader stops and realises. These are mirror images of what is happening to women on a day to day basis. From female writers writing under male names, to the situation in Saudi Arabia, Female Genital Mutilation…I could go on but you get the picture. Alderman paints a terrifying dystopia. Read about it, be appalled for the men living in that fictional world then put down your book, and take a look around our one.
“The world is the way it is now because of five thousand years of ingrained structures of power based on darker times when things were much more violent… But we don’t have to act that way now. We can think and imagine ourselves differently once we understand what we’ve based our ideas on.”