The Power

May 21, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

powerThe Power by Naomi Alderman

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I was stoked to read this book. I had heard a lot of good about it leading up to its US release, and when I did finally get it, my wife read it first and loved it. She wanted to re-read it as soon as she finished it. She gave it five stars. She wanted me to hurry up and read it so we could talk about it. So of course I did.

I like the premise of this book. It’s a lofty one, feminist and thoughtful, and I walked away from the book feeling like it was a necessary read. “Necessary”, though, doesn’t mean “Favorite”. I just didn’t love it as much as my wife did.

Part of it could be the simple reason that I’m male. Though I don’t use my position to hold power over others, and though I never use my privilege against others, I can’t deny that it’s never happened simply because I haven’t actively done it. I have a habit of smiling and saying hello to people as I pass them in the hallways at work. Men don’t always respond; women, I noticed, almost always respond with at least a smile. After several months of observing this, it dawned on me that women might feel like they have to respond, thanks to hundreds of years of cultural conditioning where they learned that snubbing a man’s attention could be dangerous. Men, however, have the luxury of receiving or ignoring attention from anyone else without the risk of harm.

The Power takes the idea of women suddenly having the ability to control electricity, and how that simple act begins to shift the balance of power from men to women. Alderman has a good idea here, but I can’t help but feel like her approach is heavy-handed. This idea, written by a different author (like Margaret Atwood, who blurbs the book), could have been a fantastic read. Alderman’s version, though, feels more like a hammer to the temple than a gentle shock to the extremities.

Alderman frames her story through four characters — three women and one man — who approach this shift in power in different ways. One woman becomes a religious leader; another uses her power to wrest control of a family dynasty into her hands; the third woman is a politician who uses the power to rise to her own power, even as she attempts to hide her own abilities. The man, a reporter, documents the shift in power from other countries, but still believes that his privilege will carry him through the shift without harm. Alderman uses him to represent the minority, and shows how limiting and oppressive it can be to be in that position, but wisely uses him to portray the male arrogance that has a hard time going away.

One thing I liked about Alderman’s approach is that she doesn’t create a utopia out of a female-led society. It would have been easy to make the shift in power resolve all the problems, but she instead shows how power can corrupt whoever has that power. We see the same problems arise in the matriarchy as we see now in the patriarchy. I hesitate to call it a dystopian novel, since all it is is a reverse reflection of our current times, but then again, I’m a straight white male; as bad as things get in this society, I’m still in pretty good shape. Maybe to those without the power, our current society is a dystopia.

The book lacks a certain subtlety that could make this a five-star book for me. I didn’t like the religious plot, and I felt like the framing device of the book being a manuscript written by a man sent to the author for review only hammered home some of the points Alderman made through the narrative. It gave her a chance to put in a last dig at the current state of things by asking the author if he considered publishing it under a female name, but I feel like she could have covered that in the story itself. As such, I rate the book 3.5 stars, rounded up to four because this does feel like an important book.

Started: March 18, 2018
Finished: March 29, 2018

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