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The Power by Naomi Alderman

Book review by Liz Nelson

Encased in a dramatically vibrant cover reminiscent of World War Two propaganda posters, Naomi Alderman’s sci-fi/dystopian novel explores the impact of young girls discovering a new supernatural ability to produce electricity at will; from small, harmless jolts to the power to inflict agonizing pain and even death.

When I passed a copy of The Power to the male bookseller behind the till, he half-jokingly remarked that he was scared to read this one. Reminded of a quote attributed to novelist Margaret Atwood, I understood his apprehension: ‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.’ In The Power, this fear dynamic is suddenly upturned; women become the stronger, more dominant sex. Femininity is synonymous with strength and authority, and men are the ones who are afraid to walk alone at night.
The scope and ideas explored in this novel are huge. The international impact of the power on society, politics, terrorism, war and religion is skilfully unfolded through the sometimes intertwining stories of four individuals: Allie, a powerful girl with abusive religious parents; Margot, an ambitious American politician; Roxy, daughter of London crime family; and Tunde, a young Nigerian man and aspiring journalist.

Winner of the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, The Power is undeniably clever and thought-provoking, holding a mirror to entrenched sexual hierarchies and cruelties still prevalent in our modern world by presenting an alternative reality. We discover in a conversation between the author and a friend at the beginning and end of the book that it was ‘written’ in the distant future as a historical novelisation of events that we consider the present day. It is these insightful, brilliantly written conversations that are my favourite part of the entire book. In between chapters, diagrams of archaeological artefacts offer insights into the near future after the discovery of the power, including suggestions for the spiritual meaning of a ‘bitten fruit motif’ found in ancient technology.

The Power is bold and thrilling, violent and disturbing, with an ending that absolutely blew me away. It is a compelling must-read for 2017.