Put down your phone, and pick up this book. I cannot think of anything more important for you to do. I’m kick-starting my first proper blog post with something incredibly close to my heart: reading. Especially reading books about female empowerment, feminism and intersectionality (can I get a “hell yeah” from the back?). Chances are if you’re a male, this book may make you feel a little uncomfortable. Rightly so. Naomi Alderman takes practically every sexist narrative ever perpetrated onto women and turns it around onto men, shifting ‘the power’ into female hands, and completely rewriting society and its hierarchical, patriarchal force, all with the help of a little dystopian science fiction. As if a female Doctor Who wasn’t enough…
These ‘Reasons To Read’ posts will follow like to; simply listing as many reasons I believe other people should read said book and trying desperately to convince you to do so. They will not contain spoilers because I’m not about that life. Without further ado, here are as many reasons as my sleep-deprived brain can muster to persuade you to read The Power:
REASON 1: IF YOU LIKED THE HANDMAID’S TALE… Recently serialized on Channel 4, Margaret Atwood’s chilling The Handmaid’s Tale has been a topic passing everyone’s lips. Speaking to today’s society in the way it tackles themes of women’s rights, reproductive choices, and the governing of the state, this novel and now TV series have successfully pricked people’s ears up to the realities of women’s plights worldwide. Atwood herself even commented upon her dystopian novel and enlightened her readers and critics that nothing in the book was in fact fiction or dystopian at all, it was in fact an accumulation of the plights affecting real women worldwide, which when amalgamated looks a lot like dystopia. In short, if you liked that then you’ll undoubtedly like The Power. Acclaimed by Atwood, the novel takes a twenty-first century reality and adds a science-fiction twist, giving women the power to use electricity through a fictional body part called the ‘skein’ (located on the collarbone and connected to the fingertips and palms). This ‘power’ then allows certain female characters to escape violence, oppression, and gain one-up in the world purely because the very idea of having a ‘power’ greater than men is enough to shift the hierarchical structure. It portrays a similar apocalyptic vision of the world like The Handmaid’s Tale, but ties in aspects of an aspiration to a male-free world by extreme thinkers, kind of a parallel/opposition to Atwood’s novel whereby there’s speculation for men being used for reproduction as opposed to women.
REASON 2: IT SPEAKS TO TODAY Alderman’s novel is incredibly intense and uncomfortable to read at times, much like Atwood’s writing. It seems to be telling in its conversation with contemporary issues like abuse and rape narratives, the language terms used to describe women, and consent. At many points in the novel, Alderman works to turn these issues that we understand on their heads, providing a satirical quality to her work which holds a real mirror up to the kind of society we are living in. In short, she’s alerting us that women live in fear in many parts of the world, as if men have this ‘power’ to inflict pain and control, when oppression can truly become eradicated if done in force. She provides a multitude of examples whereby women unite together in masses and create change, which is perhaps an encouragement to the women of the world today.
REASON 3: IF YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT SLAYING THE PATRIARCHY/ JUST GENERALLY NOT INTO OPPRESSION AND EVERYTHING THAT POLITICAL POLICIES AND PATRIARCHAL AGENDAS POSE ON WOMEN In a nutshell, this book is uncomfortable to read from a man’s point of view, and is intended to be read that way. Alderman includes a male perspective in her character of Tunde, in amongst the many other female voices to show this juxtaposition of experiences. The reading experience, therefore, for a man, reads the same. Men generally reacted with disgust at the serialisation of The Handmaid’s Tale for being too graphic and encouraging ‘feminazis’ (ugh), and many spoke out about what they deemed to be ‘extreme’ links between Atwood’s not-so-dystopian novel and the new political policies enforced by Trump against women’s reproductive rights. In a similar way, Alderman has received some backlash from both men and women (fragile masculinity and internalised misogyny bear their ugly heads again), about th
e book being too extreme and promoting the oppression of men. I myself can’t understand this logic, purely because Alderman goes out of her way to highlight how good and bad women use their ‘power’, just as there are good and bad men in the world that oppress women. One female GoodReads reviewer even commented that she believed Alderman was presenting the idea of: “oh look isn’t this horrible/shocking/perverse and yet men do this to women “all the time” and deemed it “kind of over the top feminism.” Alternatively, another reader states: “When a male friend found out I was reading a book
in which all women simultaneously develop the power to electrocute people and subsequently seize control of society, he responded “Tch, if that were the other way around, you’d go mad”… NO SHIT SHERLOCK! Damn right, the idea of a society in which one sex is systematically oppressed through the threat (or use) of physical and sexual violence infuriates me. The concept of one sex being disproportionately raped, killed and restricted sickens me. But I don’t need to go and buy a book about the situation being the other way around because THAT’S THE WORLD THAT WE LIVE IN.” (You go girl). The only readers who have a problem with this kind of novel are the ones who are uncomfortable in general in accepting and admitting that we have such problems of inequality and oppression in our society. In a similar way to Atwood, Alderman unflinchingly holds this mirror up to patriarchal, controlled society and calls out its flaws in a way that cuts straight to the bone. It’s gritty, shocking, and oh-so-important.
REASON 4: IT’S INTERSECTIONAL Intersectional feminist perspectives are lacking in so many important pieces of literature and criticism. Prom
oting equality and raising women up is incredible, but it needs to be done inclusive of all races, genders, identities, expressions, abilities, classes and ethnicities. This means recognising that not all feminists are white, middle class, able-bodied, and cis-gendered. It means being inclusive of women of colour, trans women, oppressed female minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and everything inbetween. I feel that this book met a lot of these criterias with specific intent. In Alderman’s novel, the races and ethnicities of her female characters are unspecified, and readers are only certain that the male character, Tunde, is from the Middle East. This primarily opens up the door for a diverse cast should The Power be made into a film or TV series. The characters themselves are diverse in their backgrounds, as Alderman explores broken homes, gang violence, the lower class struggles and abuse through Roxy. She also foregrounds sexual abuse and religion in Allie. Through Tunde she is able to show interactions with the Middle Eastern women he meets on his journey to document the changes in society, and highlights the struggles of sex workers in poverty-stricken areas. The upper class mayor, Margot Cleary, sheds light on oppression and ridicule by
male counterparts in the workplace, and shows the effect of ‘the power’ on education and
society, and the censorship her male co-workers seek to put into effect for young females. Alderman also seeks to represent the struggles of trans men and women who are dubbed ‘gender traitors’ by fictional extremist groups in the novel, again, holding a mirror up to today’s society and the lack of understanding and support. Furthermore, the news reports and coverage included in snippets throughout show the unification and actions of women all over the world, finally able to fight back against oppression, oppressors and pave a new way in the world. I’m sure there are many ways that even more intersectional perspectives could have been included in Alderman’s novel, but I would argue that it does clearly pave a way for more literature and media of its nature to be even more inclusive.
REASON 5: IT’S A BOOK ABOUT FEMALE POWER I sincerely hope that it goes without saying that just because this is a book about women it certainly isn’t just for women. It satirises and converses with many of the struggles our society is plagued with today, which affects all of us. So, if you’re a human, living on Earth, with the ability
to read or listen to an audiobook, you have no reason not to read this sharp, sophisticated and startling novel that will almost certainly change the way you see the world. *mic drop*
If you’re not already convinced, I suggest you scroll to the top and re-read this blog post, or alternatively just read the first few pages of this amazing book and you won’t want to put it down. I also feel incredibly lucky to be in contact with the wonderful Naomi Alderman at present, as she’s answering some questions for me about her novel and it’s relationship to contemporary society for a rather exciting research project I’m doing at university, which I may later divulge into on this blog.
Please do go and read this book! You’d be mad not to.
I wrote this book review in August of 2017, and whilst we await a permanent blogger on this platform, I thought this would be an apt post to kick-start the use of our Books That Matter blog! I loved this book when I read it; and the momentous story line and feminist message still holds a special place in my heart, however, I was relieved to discover later on that I wasn’t the only one who felt disappointed in the writing style and execution of this novel. What did you think?
Photo credit goes to our in-house Instagram blogger Sara-Jayne at bookish harpy.