I don’t normally read fiction. For some reason, I’ve mentally associated films with fiction and books with non-fiction. Books are for facts. Analysis, typically political. Or, if they must tell a story, it must be a story well-known and well-told – a classic, like Lord of the Rings, or Fifty Shades of Grey. Nonetheless, I am very pleased I overcame this mental block in order to read Naomi Alderman’s The Power: the winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, and one of Barack Obama’s favourite books of 2017. It’s easy to see why.
The Power very much feels like a novel with 21st Century sensibilities. Not only does it explore issues of gender and patriarchy (you don’t need me to enlighten you on how topical those are) but its A Song of Ice and Fire-esque structure of POV chapters creates a fully-realised world of individuals with coherent and understandable viewpoints, often finding themselves in opposition to one another. Alderman covers all the bases of the conflict – which I won’t reveal, but just know that ‘power’ is illustrated in all its senses – succinctly, so much so that I was disappointed upon finishing it. But they do say those are the best kind of stories.
Like ASOIAF, the anthological nature of The Power means there is something for everyone: political upheaval, religious epic, gritty crime drama (I personally found the first two much more interesting than the third, but whaddya gonna do?). Its analysis of history is what really makes this story stand out, though.
When right-wing reactionaries get grumpy about progressivism they tend to start talking about white racism and/or male sexism, expressing fears that whites will become a persecuted minority and the West will evolve into a matriarchy. These kinds of complaints now produce a muted eye-roll, but Alderman tackles them head on through the historical nature of The Power. Was it destiny for men to socially engineer their space in power, or could it just have easily been women? Is a matriarchy automatically preferable to patriarchy? Do people believe in the roles of sex and gender because of predetermined qualities and noticeable differences or simply because of history, and how this is ‘always the way it’s been?’
I highly recommend The Power. It’s relatively breezy, funny, engaging and exciting, painting a picture of a world where the traditional channels of power are suddenly uprooted and turned on their heads. Great cover, too.