Book Club: ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman

Chapter W’s resident bookworm Louisa Davies reviews book of the moment ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman, and tells you why you should add it to your Summer reading list…


Imagine a world where women had the power to release an electrifying bolt of energy from their fingertips, able to torture, manipulate and even kill those they choose to use it upon? Imagine a world where women were the dominant gender, where men were terrified of the power that lay beneath their finger tips. 

Naomi Alderman’s ‘The Power‘, which recently won the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, creates this world perfectly for you. Told through the eyes of four narrators, you are sucked into a world where women are suddenly aware of a power within them, one that is exclusive to those with XX chromosomes. This power allows women to electrify those around them using their ‘skein’, generating energy that changes the course of the world around them.

Women are the dominant gender, ruling the world with their shock waves, men cowering when they see them. It shows civilisation’s turn on men, humiliating them and stripping them of all power to ensure they are clear who runs the world (girls…) It is a shift in cultural power that the reader eventually understands is not about gender at all, but the darkness of power and dictatorship. The Power illustrates that regardless of gender, once the greed of power overtakes you, there is no limit to what the human psyche is capable of.

Focussing on the stories of Mafia daughter Roxy,  abused orphan turned religious leader Allie (aka Mother Eve), male narrator Tunde and the ambitious political figure Margot, we are taken on a journey that covers gender inequality, religious undercurrents, female friendships, and ultimately the abuse of a power that could have been used so differently.

All characters have their back stories divulged to the reader, a plethora of difference is clearly illustrated, all combined by this abuse of power that leaves them longing for a new world. Using female narrators to describe the world, matched with a male perspective from Tunde, really draws the reader in, and all the voices tremble as they try to survive.

Religion is a key component of the novel, with Mother Eve stepping forward to create a new cult of women who worship her every word. The Bible is flipped on its head, and new perspectives on the creation of the world offered to the women who are left shaking with excitement with their new power.

Alderman was mentored by queen of the Dystopian novel Margaret Atwood, and the influence of Atwood’s feminist ideologies are clear throughout The Power. Being able to create an alternative world, but one that is not too outrageously different to the one we all live in, gives the reader the chance to ponder…what would happen if this was real? 

The world created within the novel echoes some truths of the recent events that have occured over the past year. ‘A dozen women turned into a hundred. A hundred into a thousand…they understood their strength, all at once’ is reminiscent of January’s Women’s March, understanding that we can make a difference together. Understanding the power in unity is almost as electrifying as the skein described in The Power, and something that can be achieved in the real world.

Alderman’s world shows that ‘teenage girls can wake this thing up in older women’, as the youth are the first to discover the current of power soaring through their body. One character is described as ‘eighty years old, and the tears run down her face as she does it again and again’ upon discovering her own power. This metaphor for the youth forcing change in the current world, stirring up dulled down oppression in older women, and making them realise that they do not have to accept a world where they are second best stirs excitement in the reader. It shows us that the gender inequalities we have chosen to ignore is not a world we should accept, and the fiery nature of teenage girls is not one to be ignored. 

Teen Vogue and Rookie are brilliant examples of publications for teenagers reporting on important issues, because as Alderman says…’young people are still deadly,’  and there is nothing more terrifying than a teenage girl. Stay inspired, stay angry, and stay dedicated to raising awareness of the world around you.

To read The Power is to read a novel that is focused on gender initially, but finishes almost as a comment of the sociology and psychology of human nature. ‘Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not. Tap on it and it’s hollow’. Alderman explores a world where the initial electrifying excitement of change is dampened by the realisation that no one knows how to properly utilise this for good, with dictatorships and brutal murders a frequent occurrence in the novel. It forces the reader to confront the morality of the world we live in, and this parallel universe as one that could easily be real.

Naomi Alderman’s The Power is a thought-provoking, electrifying read that catapults the reader into a world of unknown, and forces them to confront gender in a new sphere. Power offers potential and influence, but as Alderman demonstrates, it also creates fear and brutality once those who have it are left drunk by its overwhelming force.

‘The power to hurt is a kind of wealth’, Alderman writes, and the world of skeins remains one I am not so sure I would want to experience. But one that I urge you to dip into, as The Power is firmly one of the most important books of the past five years.

Let us know if you’ve read The Power! 

Written by Louisa Davies


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