The Power by Naomi Alderman
I’ve heard a ton of buzz about this book. One of my dear friends had read and raved about this book, and it made President Obama’s list of best books for 2017, alongside my book of the year, Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing. I had high hopes. The premise intrigued me. What would we do in a world where women had all the power and the tables were turned on the class and power dynamic?
The problem starts when you look at a metaphor–power–and turn it into *literal* electricity. I don’t think that making a metaphor a literal object in a book makes your message more compelling or persuasive. In fact, if you’re going to look at genetic mutations/deviations/variants, you’re going to draw comparisons to X-Men, and I could never quite shake that comparison off. As a work of speculative fiction, I just didn’t quite understand the science, and I felt that there was room in the book to explore the world-building aspect that just didn’t quite add up or help me situate the history and context that Alderman built.
But that’s minor compared to my biggest problem with the book, which makes a potential (perhaps unintended) case for women being just as bad as men–whether just as condescending, just as brutally violent, or just as power-thirsty. And frankly, I don’t buy it. As a feminist, I don’t believe that we should wrench power away from men or that we gain power in order to brutalize men. Rather, we should be equals, and that means being stronger together. And the trajectory of the book left me feeling more and more frustrated.
There were some moments that felt like cultural appropriation and did not sit well with me at all. I would have been interested in power dynamic from a global perspective, but I do not think Alderman is the writer to explore this, as evidenced by her very Westernized treatment of the Saudi women.
I haven’t spoken much about the craft, but that also was a little frustrating, because so much potential is there and just not used well. Alderman writes well, but having as many narrative perspectives as she did weakened the pacing of the book substantially. Not all of the narrators are interesting, and that also kept me from diving into the book as readily as I might have. Finally, the letters at the beginning and the end of the novel felt…tacked on. Or at least unnecessary. There wasn’t enough archeology/science/etc. to make this feel like a multi-modal text.
Ultimately, this is an original premise that left me rather cold with its ideology and execution.