The Power by Naomi Alderman: a review by Victoria Hoyle

The Power by Naomi Alderman: a review by Victoria Hoyle

By Victoria Hoyle

The Power— Naomi Alderman (Penguin Viking)

Of all the books that I personally shortlisted for this project The Power is the one that I find most challenging to judge and to write about. I chose it precisely because of this difficulty; I had read it before and felt decidedly mixed about it. I have loved some of Alderman’s earlier work – her debut Disobedience (2006) was one of the first books that I reviewed online – and have read her assiduously, with great pleasure. Yet this fourth novel, her breakthrough book, left me unsure and unsettled.  While friends and critics turned out in numbers to praise its ingenuity and confidence, its bold engagement with the dynamics of power and gender, I hung back and sat on my immediate reaction. Which was: Yes, all those things, but… I couldn’t decisively put my finger on what the ‘but’ was; it was just there, throwing up a barrier between the book and me.  At the same time, I couldn’t dismiss it; I was niggled. It stayed with me. So much so, that when it came time for creating my Clarke shortlist I knew The Power had to be on it. Whatever my personal reservations, it was clearly one of the more thought-provoking and eloquent of the submitted books. I felt I owed it a re-read, to test my first response.

It’s rare for me to re-read a book within six months; even more rare to re-read a book I didn’t love on first contact. It was a salutary experience. My problem the first time around was one part character to one part central conceit. On second reading the characters still bothered me – I just don’t believe in them, Roxy in particular – but because I already knew the lineaments of the plot they didn’t distract me so completely from the novel’s other qualities. Instead the thematic issues came more strongly to the fore, about which more below.  It wasn’t a negative experience, not at all. This time around I had a much greater appreciation for Alderman’s craft, for her facility with language and the seduction of the book’s narrative voice. I like her breathless, short-sentenced style and always have; whereas Colson Whitehead is all about the comma, Alderman is all about the full stop. Because I floated over the action this time, observing from a position of foreknowledge and expectation, I found much more pleasure in the words themselves. It slipped down easy as you like; a bit wearisome towards the high-octane ending but still very lovely.

More than that I could see how my reaction to the novel – the unshakeable instinct I have to argue with it – is in some ways its best effect.  It has one of those ‘rollicking’ plots that publicists love to talk about but for the purposes of the Clarke Award (and any award really) its other identity as confrontational thought experiment is the more important.  It’s not completely successful in my opinion but it’s always bold. There is a lot of intellectual pleasure to be had from it: unpicking it, pushing at its knottier parts, testing how far it can justify itself.  In that sense it does precisely what I want a good science fiction novel to do: it makes me work; it isn’t easy.

The book’s ‘what if’ premise is straightforward.  In a world very much like ours adolescent girls suddenly develop the ability to discharge electrical currents through their hands, generated by a previously undetected organ, a ‘skein’, along their collarbone.  At first it’s just the teenagers who have ‘the Power’ but soon they begin to awaken it in older women, until the vast majority of the female population has the capacity to inflict intense pain and extreme violence at will.  The destabilisation of the gendered order is rapid and ferocious. Social and cultural collectives at all levels, from family to nation state, religious congregation to criminal syndicate, are forced to re-evaluate the patriarchal power dynamics that so completely underlie the government of people and the self in our world.

We witness the emergence and impact of the Power through the experiences of four characters.  Allie is an abused foster-kid with a voice in her head which may be the manifestation of her survival instinct or the actual words of God.  After killing her stepfather and running away from home she washes up at a convent in North America where, following the voice’s instructions, she establishes herself as Mother Eve. Initially an internet phenomenon, she rapidly becomes the world leader of a new matriarchal religion. Roxy is the illegitimate daughter of a London crime boss who first discovers the Power when her mother is murdered by a rival gang. This leads her to exact a revenge that catapults her head first into her father’s drug-dealing empire, where her superior physical strength sees her take prime position over her brothers. Tunde, our only male protagonist, is a Nigerian student who captures one of the earliest uses of the Power on his mobile phone. He sells the footage to CNN and, realising that something extraordinary is happening, embarks on a career of freelance journalism, travelling around the world as it is shaken by change.  Finally, there is Margot, the only grown adult amongst the cast. While Allie, Roxy and Tunde are all teenagers (or very recently teenagers), Margot is in the middle of a political career.  Although she struggles to come to terms with the implications for the future of her two daughters she also sees an opportunity to increase her political capital and embarks on a meteoric rise to power.

As the main arc of the novel unfolds around them the stories of these four protagonists follow familiar narrative grooves. There are betrayals, near death experiences, doomed love affairs.  There are no real surprises but it’s certainly entertaining (to the extent that the action sometimes verges on soap opera) and there are some crunchy referents to contemporary culture.  Allie’s messianic preaching spreads through social media, making it possible for her to influence audiences around the world; the same technology allows her to tap into emerging goddess theologies in the world’s first matriarchy in Bessapara, formerly Moldova, where much of the action of the latter half of the novel takes place.  Margot’s campaign to become state Governor and then a Senator is predicated on voters’ preference for displays of force and threats of violence. In one of the most prescient and horrifying sections of the book she attacks her political opponent on stage; unable to control her anger, she shocks him with the Power.  Although she apologises profusely the polls suggest that she will lose. Except she doesn’t. She wins in a landslide.

It turns out the voters lied… They said they respected hard work, commitment and moral courage. They said that the candidate’s opponent had lost their vote the moment she gave up on reasoned discourse and calm authority. But when they went into the voting booths in their hundreds and thousands, and tens of thousands, they’d thought, You know what, though, she’s strong. She’d show them. (p169)

The book came out in October last year, a full month before Donald Trump was elected President and only four months after Brexit, but it’s impossible not to read 2016’s (and now 2017’s) political upsets in Margot’s experience. The toxic machismo and aura of threat that hangs over Western politics is writ large here.

All this action occurs bracketed by a frame narrative, in which a male author called Neil Adam Armon (an anagram of Naomi Alderman) writes to a female author called Naomi.  In their exchange Naomi expresses an oozing condescension to Neil, who is apparently grateful for a moment of her time.  He has written a novel – the one we are reading – in an attempt to broaden the appeal of theories that he has previously expressed in non-fiction. We come to understand that, although contemporary to our world, this novel is set over five thousand years before the frame. It’s a historical novel in other words; or a mytho-historical novel at least. In Neil’s timeline women are and apparently have always been the dominant sex, while men are ‘more kind, more gentle, more loving and naturally nurturing.’ (p333) The purpose of his story is to question the inevitability of this dynamic, a purpose reinforced by the illustrations of artefacts that are inserted throughout the text.  They hint at a pre-Power patriarchal world, which is entirely alien to Neil and Naomi’s lived experience. He imagines the events that flipped the switch on the male/female power dynamic, so that vice became versa.

As we witness riots in Dehli, uprisings in Saudi Arabia and the founding of Bessapara we are repeatedly shown scenes of women turning the tables on their male oppressors and abusers. The impact depends upon the context.  Alderman’s decision to set the book largely in Moldova, which is notorious for sex trafficking, and to follow Tunde as he chases the most controversial stories, means that we are exposed to extreme expressions of change including the mutilation, rape, enslavement and murder of men. We see a muted analogue in Margot’s storyline where a female news presenter slowly gains control of the show while her male co-host is relegated to lifestyle and fashion stories.  Similarly we see how Tunde’s journalism is easily and readily appropriated by a female colleague. Sexism towards men is proportionately and appropriately designed to the pre-Power expressions of sexism towards women.  By Naomi and Neil’s time we are to understand that the violence of the early years has outlived its usefulness and a cultural coercion not dissimilar to our current state of affairs is thoroughly embedded.

My problems with the book begin here, with its narrow focus on how power acts on people and shapes the world.  This is most evident for me in its almost complete lack of engagement with intersectionality. Switching the current of gendered power dynamics isn’t as simple as turning the hourglass and watching the sand all fall the other way. The novel only engages tangentially with how gendered experience is impacted and nuanced by race, sexuality and disability. The novel seems unconscious of how power is complicated by its unequal distribution within genders, or by white, cis, straight privilege. Tunde, who is black-African, and Allie, who is bi-racial, don’t reflect at all on how this effects their experiences of a post-Power world.  Affluence and poverty are also flattened out. It isn’t clear, for example, how poor girls in Margot’s America might fare differently to her own daughters.

Similarly, there are no overt LGBTQ characters in the book. There are anomalies in how the Power exhibits. Some women don’t have a skein at all, while others – like Margot’s eldest daughter, Jocelyn – have a condition that makes it difficult or painful for them to use it.  There are a minority of young men who have a muted version of it. Some readings have adopted these as analogies for variations in sexuality or transgendered identities but I don’t find this particularly convincing. First because it’s unnecessary to have analogies when you could just have LGBTQ characters; and second because this plays into a biological reading of sexuality and trans identity as a deviancy or illness that I find distasteful and offensive.

During a debate about this with a colleague it was suggested to me that any lack of intersectional awareness is a function of the frame narrative. Neil, the putative author of the historical fiction we are reading, is writing from his own experience as a (presumably) white male and so is unconscious of the omission. His own prejudices are playing out on the page.  Which is an interpretation that makes sense on the level of literary devices but no sense at all thematically.  If The Power is about power generically, and gendered power in particular, then these seem like major omissions.

Academic and critic Laura Tisdall has also pointed out how the book fails to consider nuances of women’s embodied experience on a practical level and how biological differences between male and female bodies matter.

In physical terms, women are not solely oppressed as a sex class because they are physically weaker than men, but because they carry, bear and often nurse children. Despite their physical inferiority to women, men in The Power still won’t have to deal with unwanted pregnancy, or pregnancy as a result of rape; they won’t have to spend nine months pregnant and then give birth; they still won’t have to take any time out from work at all to have their own biological children. This means that the nature of their oppression is not the simple flip-side of women’s oppression, but a different kind of subjugation.

We witness numerous acts of physical violence and brutality committed by women against men in the latter half of the book, many of which have direct parallels with the experiences of women pre-Power.  We are introduced, for example, to the practice of ‘curbing’, a procedure whereby young boys are genitally mutilated so that they can only be sexually aroused by electrical stimulation.  The equivalency to female genital mutilation (FGM) is quite clear. But there is no evidence that the strategies women develop to establish their power go beyond tit-for-tat. How, for example, might the experience of childbirth and parenting be reconfigured? How might standards of beauty change? Again, it’s possible to blame a lack of consideration on our fictional author Neil, but it’s a big burden for the frame narrative to bear.

It’s not a particularly strong frame to begin with. Its purpose is to reinforce the thought-experiment but it’s flimsy for me in several ways. To begin with I’m unconvinced by the mid-twentieth century flippancy in which sexism is expressed in the correspondence between Neil and Naomi; it’s so blatant as to be almost silly. Sexism in contemporary Western culture is corrosive because it’s coded and sub-textual and I’m unclear why Alderman would chose to write it otherwise.  My bigger problem though arises from the claim that Neil makes for his text as a historical novel because there is no attempt to write historically.  The sense that he is writing about an alien time, biblical in its equivalent distance to us, is very limited. You would imagine, for example, that Neil would dwell longer on the things that make this time-period distinct from his own. That he would explain more. That he would elaborate on male power and culture, given that it is the most fantastical and unbelievable element of his story.  That he would be more interested in how men experienced this cataclysmic change from their perspective.  As it is we get very little evidence of change between his time and this past time, other than the gender switch. The technologies, cultural practices and geo-political make-up appear the same, implying that in the event we were annihilated back to the stone age we would end up in the same place five thousand years from now.  That seems both highly unlikely and desperately fatalistic.

In common with the majority of books on my personal shortlist – quite by accident – it seems to me that Alderman is ultimately writing not about gender, and not even about power, but about the possibility of change. The Power underlines that our systems of governance and socio-cultural practices are poisoned at the root by inequalities of power. It shows us is that simplistic responses to this problem will only perpetuate the rot in a different pattern.  Standard rhetoric around change – if we did this rather than that, if we were strong rather than weak, if women ruled the world rather than men – is meaningless.  Even the most extreme of intervention married to this logic is hopeless. And here is my final, unresolved qualm about this book: Yes, I agree, but what is the alternative?  In his review Nick pointed to an article – How to build a feminist utopia – in which Alderman put forward her response to this question and yet I find no evidence of her suggestions in the novel. It’s a lack.

So I’m left angry, stimulated, confused, impassioned and frustrated by The Power. Again. Even more than the first time I feel like it’s a red flag to my bull and I just want to keep charging at it.  There was a good deal of surprise amongst the shadow jury that Alderman wasn’t on the official shortlist.  Even in spite of all my reservations, I certainly think it superior to several of the actual contenders. Of course, we decided to give it the sixth slot on our shadow list.  It came up throughout our discussions and I was a strong advocate for including it, not because it’s perfect – none of the books are – but because it’s such a thorny creature. After two readings, much discussion and writing nearly 3000 words about it, I’m still equivocal and undecided.  In his review of Azanian Bridges Paul described Wood’s book as ‘splintery’ and I think I would use the same word to finally describe The Power.  It’s well and truly under my skin and sticking with me.


Victoria Hoyle is an archivist, blogger and part-time PhD student.  She lives with her partner and a dog called Juno in rural North Yorkshire in the UK.

>> Read Victoria’s introduction and shortlist


  1. Abigail Nussbaum 7 years ago

    I read Tisdall’s observation about the lack of attention to pregnancy, and I think it misses the point that Alderman is trying to make, especially with her framing story. I can’t know this for certain, obviously, but I certainly believe that the disadvantage that pregnancy confers on women in our society is strongly, if not entirely, derived from patriarchal structures. Yes, pregnancy and childbirth are a physical trauma and burden, but they could be alleviated with appropriate social and technological structures, which our society refuses to erect (see, for example, the way that the medical establishment’s reaction to common gynecological complaints is either “it’s all in your head” or “live with it”, and the way that research dollars are rarely allocated to such ailments, while conditions that afflict men are heavily studied). I can easily imagine a matriarchal society in which pregnancy is valorized, and the messy, uncomfortable, and even dangerous parts of it are minimized by social structures and scientific solutions, and by the availability of low-status men to do a lot of the onerous work (in fact I’m fairly certain I’ve read SFnal matriarchies in which this was the case).

    All of which, of course, is to agree with your characterization of The Power as a book that one is inclined to argue with and about. In my review at Strange Horizons, I wrote that the argumentative impulse that Alderman’s premise arouses is often enough to overpower books like hers, and I continue to be impressed by her ability to nevertheless make The Power its own thing. I agree that the book’s lack of intersectional awareness (and especially the way it uses variations in power usage as a metaphor for LGBT characters rather than featuring them explicitly) are problems, and particularly that they undercut Alderman’s ultimate goal, of talking about the allure of power in the abstract. Very few reviewers have discussed the book’s clever use of Jewish imagery, and particularly the passage from Samuel that it uses as an epigraph, and then returns to in its climactic scene (though as you say, if we take the framing story seriously we have to wonder at that inclusion – is it possible that Neil would be familiar with the original version of the Bible, with its unthinkingly patriarchal social structures?). The thrust of that passage is to ask why people flock to strongmen, who abuse them and erect unequal social structures. I agree that Alderman hasn’t offered a solution, but seeing as the question has been asked and gone unanswered for thousands of years, I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to criticize her for that.

    • Victoria Hoyle 7 years ago

      I agree that the biological and physical experiences of childbirth and motherhood don’t have to be the burdens our society makes of them – it’s repulsive the way maternity is used to reinforce gender inequalities. I interpreted Laura’s comments as a criticism of The Power’s lack of consideration to how this problem might be addressed in a female-led society rather than as biological determinism. Given that women must still be conceiving and raising children throughout the action of the novel – even if the lead characters don’t – it’s interesting that there are no references to cultural change in this area. There is a bit of a nod in the frame narrative when Naomi uses maternal protective instinct as an explanation as to why women are the naturally martial and violent sex; and in the main narrative we have Margot’s parenting her teen daughters plus the prospect that Roxy and Tunde will have children after the novel ends. But it seems a bit of a thin reflection on a fundamental mechanism of oppression. Perhaps ten years is too soon for healthcare or technology to decisively shift but you would have thought it would have been up there on the index of change. Generally I thought the book showed, if not outright hostility, then definitely ambivalence to issues of reproduction and family. Perhaps this is another function of Neil’s perspective but that brings me back to the limitations of the frame narrative, which frustrates me again. This book, damn it!

      I’m glad you brought up the Jewish and Old Testament imagery, which runs through all of Alderman’s work and in my mind links The Power strongly with her earlier work evn though it feels like a stylistic break. I didn’t write about it here because I don’t feel confident in my full understanding of how the epigraph works in the story, especially in the context of the frame narrative. It’s quoted before the frame, suggesting that it’s a message to us from outside the world of the novel but then, as you say, we return to it within Neil’s narrative. It’s difficult to imagine that he would have access to OT theology at that remove, although he’s clearly familiar with the idea of the flood and the Ark because they were co-opted by Mother Eve to explain the need for the cataclysm at the end of the book. It would be interesting to see a reading of the novel that worked through that tangled web. I also take your point about asking the book for answers to impenetrable questions; I’m being greedy. But then again, I think there were opportunities within the space of the story to explore alternative responses to the Power, to offer more than a single trajectory to the ‘what if’. Power is corrosive and irresistable, but people do try to resist it. Given the influence that charismatic individual characters have on the post-Power world I would have liked to see some variance in their instincts, to see different models of behaviour and change.

  2. doran 7 years ago

    I just finished the book and I’m scouring the internet, looking for any kind of discourse on it.
    I definitely think that this was a very dense book – the kind of book that could easily have been spread across a series, following the same characters through the period of 10 years, and touching on the lives of several other characters.
    I will add a few things though that I think your review missed:
    Ryan is a trans character. It’s explicitly said that he has an atypical chromosomal trait, and the text also mentions – though it does not dwell – that boys like Ryan have started becoming victims of experiments.
    Unfortunately, Ryan serves as more of a supporting character to Jocelyn, who in turn is a supporting character to Margo, so we don’t get his PoV.
    Jocelyn, by the way, is a character that I feel serves as an analogy of the effects of “toxic masculinity” on growing children.

    I will also add as the commenter above that the “downsides” of pregnancy/child-bearing are entirely constructed by a patriarchal society. When Viagra is insurable but the Pill is now… well, of course, possessing a uterus is going to put one at a disadvantage. But you can already see in the text, how the thinking is changing. When questions like: “how many men do we need?” and the “broken clock is right twice a day” of the Mens’s Rights group pointing out that survival of the species does not need a 1:1 male:female ratio. If women have the Power, men become dispensable. Much like in our own world, men’s sexuality now becomes a commodity and something to control. You see depictions of young men being “culled”. (I didn’t bother to look up the meaning of the word because I could infer its horrific definition), and baby boys being aborted en masse. Also if we live in a society where little boys are basically brain-washed from childhood that they are more nurturing, “better” at house-keeping and child-rearing, and that women are expected to be supported and propped, all with the underlying and unspoken threat of men needing to make themselves useful (“how many men do we exactly need, anyway???”)… it’s easy enough to see how the tables flip in that world to the point where it’s unreasonable to suggest otherwise.

  3. Laura Tisdall 7 years ago

    I just found this fantastic review. What a great wrestling with The Power. I have obviously expressed myself badly in my review. As I said in response to Doran on my own blog, I didn’t mean to imply that a matriarchal society wouldn’t introduce all the mitigations around pregnancy and childbirth that Doran and Abigail outline – my point was that in the far future imagined by The Power, the oppression experienced by men, while equally serious, will have to be different because the ways in which women exercise control over men’s bodies will be different. I agree with Victoria that I’d have liked to see the novel address this explicitly.

  4. Bruce Dickson 6 years ago

    Virginia, I suspect the discomfort you were trying to put your finger on was “lack of any moral imagination”
    Naomi Alderman’s The Power points to a widespread lack of Moral Imagination
    Spoiler alert ~ By all means do read the first 100 pages of The Power. It’s a wonderful, hopeful first act of an Arab Spring for all women worldwide, told with admirable artistry in setting, characters and plotting.
    From this point on, this review assumes you have read the book. 
    If you haven’t read the book and wish to read on, the NYTimes has a wonderful thumbnail: The Power, by Naomi Alderman. (Little, Brown, $26.) In this fierce, unsettling novel, the ability to generate a dangerous electrical force from their bodies lets women take control, resulting in a vast, systemic upheaval of gender dynamics across the globe. Through immersive prose and a riveting plot, Alderman explores how power corrupts everyone: those who gain it, and those resisting its loss —
    Reflects the schizophrenia since 1985 or earlier
    I agree Naomi is very talented. What I discus here is how The Power accurately reflects the schizophrenia visible since pop culture took over from Establishment culture. I do NOT suggest this comes form any issue of Naomi’s. 
    The Power seems like two books, the second one written by an entirely different author. The first book ends after page 100 in the original paper edition from the library. The difference between the first 100 pages and the remainder of the novel is so great, the first half might have been written by Dr. Jekyll, the second section written by Mr. Hyde.
    To explain the schizophrenia, useful to frame The Power by two highlights:
    1) an outpouring of repressed yearning and rage by women wronged by men. “One of the most succinct definitions of sexual harassment I’ve read over the past few weeks goes like this: It’s anything a man might say to a woman; which if the male speaker was in prison, would make him uncomfortable, if it were said to him by another man” — SOPHIE GILBERT in “What If Women Had The Power? ” — SOPHIE GILBERT (Oct 2017) —
    2) a widespread lack of Moral Imagination among authors and the public, especially obvious in pop culture.
    What’s “moral imagination”?
    “Edmund Burke … the idea our ethics should transcend our own personal experience and embrace the dignity of the human race.” 
    The last time we had some healthy mainstream moral imagination? Bernie Sanders in 2016, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Before that, we have to go all the way back to JFK’s inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for [the majority of your fellow citizens]”
    The Power is part of a pattern of dystopian futures in pop culture. Sci-fi lead with its dystopias in book and movies–until 1990s video games like Resident Evil took over and did dystopia bigger and better.
    Since the 1960s, in pop culture, Imagination is increasingly used for character, settings, plotting–in fact–for everything BUT–envisioning a better future for the majority. Ecotopia Rising and Ecotopia together is the only pop culture exception I can think of.
    If like me, you found the first 100 pages enjoyable; then, found the rest harder or impossible to read because of its negativity; then, you may have moral imagination.
    “Alderman sees herself as part of the [Me Too anger] wave. “Some of the news has sort of caught up to the book in this very strange way,” she told the Times. “Both have been part of a growing anger over the past decade, which, to me, related to the increasing visibility of certain kinds of misogyny” — (I think from online article about Naomi, but I’ve misplaced the link).
    The Power is part of something else too. Since the 1990s, a growing wave of very aggressive, savage dystopias, zombie apocalypses being the most numerous. 
    How to tell if you personally have a lack of a moral imagination: If one flavor of zombie apocalypse, is the most positive or exciting future you can imagine–you may have a lack of a moral imagination.
    The Power is nothing less than a male-nominator’s worst nightmare, every woman turned into a zombie who wants to kill him — and can–without any external tool or weapon. 
    In this novel, we have a toxic portrayal of all women, written by a woman. 
    I come at this book, and women in general, from an Energy Medicine perspective. I’m aware how much healing occurs thru the grace of the Divine Feminine — not the corrupt goddessy feminine of the 1990s . I talk with and listen to the feminine in my unconscious. 
    Therefore, the scenes with Mother Eve and her inner voice, up to page 100, interested me greatly. Mother Eve has an inner voice guiding her. Thru page 100, the larger agenda of the voice is unknown. The reader is invited to wonder if the voice is imagined by Mother Eve herself, or is possibly an authentic, possibly Angelic perspective.
    Past page 100, more and more towards the end, readers must reframe the voice as demonic, possibly as desiring world destruction or at least, wanting female-initiated world war, in whose aftermath, female domination is as bad or worse than male domination was. Could the second part of the Power be no more than an unconscious revenge fantasy? What a waste of the first act.
    The possibility the voice comes from Mother Eve’s own psyche and her trauma, does not excuse the nuclear war outcome from making women the “bad guy.”  A big contrast from the first 100 pages.
    … To a woman with a skein, any kind of confrontation looks like a fight (paraphrase from the book or from a review, not an exact quote).
    In counseling and Energy Medicine, we would ask, What if any woman with a skein assesses any interpersonal confrontation as an opportunity for connection and healing?
    We are bad but not this bad
    “While I understand a dystopian novel will focus on the negative characters bringing the world to a bleak ending, I found this novel’s unremitting depiction of all humans unrealistic to the point of frustration. Surely there are some decent males in our current society. Yet in this book all men but one are depicted as murderers and rapists. The women depicted in the new order are no better. For me the book lacked a nuanced depiction of humanity where not everyone is corrupted by power” – Female reader review of the Power on Amazon –
    The Power, even if it doesn’t provide a roadmap to a better world, provokes questions with its conclusion. What kind of weight, you wonder, might it take to tilt the scale toward a more even balance? What kind of pain would be necessary, and justifiable, to achieve it? — SOPHIE GILBERT (Oct 2017) —
    If after the first 100 pages of The Power, you wish to switch to a novel, in a similar vein, with an upbeat ending, Ecotopia Rising and Ecotopia is the only choice I can think of–so far.
    A second article on suggests how a new novel, starting from the same place, with an upbeat ending, could happen.

  5. Bruce Dickson 6 years ago

    I vote for a new version of Naomi Alderman’s The Power with alternative 2nd 3rd acts
    Script Doctor Department. #2 of two articles reviewing The Power.
    Spoiler Alert ~ The ending is exposed.
    The first 100 pages of The Power depict a positive Arab Spring uprising for all women worldwide. It’s sketched and painted with great imagination and detail in setting, characters and plotting.
    After heading up, in an upward spiral, after page 100 in the paper edition, it nosedives–everything arcs negative. The remainder to the last scene, is a downward spiral, an unremitting dystopia, equal or worse than Blade Runner.
    The Power has no climatic scene given its plotting. Why? We infer the climatic scene is worldwide nuclear war. Naomi soft-pedals this ending to The Power: domination by women is as bad or worse than the corporate, oligarchy male-domination we have now.
    Hence, the book seems so at odds with itself. It begins with an Arab Spring for women worldwide, a hopeful way forward, even if the future is unknown. After page 100, it arcs towards nuclear war to knock civilization back to the Stone Age, to recover in 5,000 years, with women now the dominant gender and gender relations as dysfunctional as they are now–except the roles are reversed. Ha ha.
    quote The Power underlines how our systems of governance and socio-cultural practices are poisoned at the root by inequalities of power. It shows us simplistic responses to this problem will only perpetuate the rot in a different pattern” – Victoria Hoyle –
    quote …[The story is] a tacit argument: a more equitable society is impossible. The battle of the sexes is exactly that—a battle. Someone has to win, and someone has to lose. Alderman explains, as the behavior of women around the world gets increasingly sadistic, they’re doing it “because they can.”
    quote Tunde and Roxy, finding themselves betrayed by their loved ones, can only equivocate the traitors did it “because they could.” There’s no sense [intelligence?] in anything anyone is doing—only the instinct to exert control. … The abuse of power is integral to society, she argues, no matter who’s wielding it. … – A stunning new speculative-fiction book by Naomi Alderman couldn’t be more timely by SOPHIE GILBERT )Oct 2017) –
    If we take as our departure point, an Arab Spring for women worldwide, this wonderful concept is trashed by executing it in THE MOST SAVAGE WAY POSSIBLE in the 2nd – 3rd acts.
    Women go from mostly helpless, hopeful, sympathetic victims to comic book super villains. Not even a comic book would accept this extreme a character arc.
    Drugs enter, but to no positive end. Seemingly drugs enter to verify-validate electricity in women’s bodies can only lead to worldwide nuclear warfare.
    Savage, swearing F _ _ _ appears hundreds of time to no real point except uncontrolled, unmitigated anger, that I can see. For me, the swearing drags the tone down, further and further away from the best women can offer humanity; probably also, turning away female iNtuitive Feeler readers most likely to respond to the first 100 pages.
    Whose interests does women destroying the world, serve?
    I think the only interests a negative conclusion to a positive Arab Spring for woman serves is–authors and readers with a lack of moral imagination. The proponents of an apocalypse as the best we can hope for.
    How to tell if you have a lack of a moral imagination: If a zombie apocalypse is the most positive or most exciting future you can imagine–you have a lack of moral imagination.
    Early on in the novel, I was hopeful about the gritty British crime family angle thru Roxy. However this plot-line is dragged down into a negative drug cartel plot; finally, to a Frankenstein-level horror–to no positive end. Why? To prove power corrupts both men and woman equally? A fantastic early premise wasted on a banal conclusion? What a waste.
    What happened? Was author Naomi Alderman unable to draw on her Orthodox Jewish upbringing and current life in Hendon, England to imagine a novel about an Arab Spring for women, with anything but a tragic ending for the world?
    The Power as story is very close to saying, “If women take over the world, power will corrupt them just like it did men. Either way, whichever gender is in charge, we end up with a horrible dystopia.”
    Q: What if all I want as a reader is an engaging, confrontational thought experiment, as much science fiction is?
    A: Then the whole book may be enjoyable to you as dystopian fantasy, a dystopia where, arguably, women screw up the entire world worse than men did, pressing the the nuclear button.
    We don’t need another “confrontational thought experiment” (Victoria Holye’s phrase).
    If you as reader have a healthy moral imagination, I think you want more from a novel, which begins so promisingly, with an Arab Spring for women worldwide.
    We need new Stories of Restoration for the majority of humanity, as many such stories as possible. SOME of them will be practical and do-able. People will try them. Experiments will happen and improvements circulated.
    On the level of the politics of writing, The Power is a betrayal of the healthy Divine Feminine archetype. Could a male author have gotten away with portraying women as brutes equal to or worse than men?
    Healthy Stories of Restoration, incorporating healthy expressions of the Divine Feminine archetype are struggling to be born in our inter-cultural moment 2008-2025. Oligarchy and corporation-driven-pop-culture are exhausted. No new Stories of Restoration coming form those sources.
    Complicating matters, new Stories of Restoration, incorporating healthy expressions of the Divine Feminine archetype, cannot focus on the corrupted, goddessy, Divine Feminine, commonly expressed in the 1990s which arises perennially since. What was missing with goddessy approaches then and now is healthy moral imagination, the Divine Feminine as bringer of the waters of life in some new expression, still obscure to me in Sept 2018.
    Naomi, can you write an alternative 2nd – 3rd act to The Power?
    This would be another entire novel or taking up from after page 100, with an entirely new direction and goal.
    I am definitely open to Naomi or another author writing an alternate 2nd and 3rd act to the original thought experiment, one where, the better side of women, comes forward more and the Divine Feminine spreads her wings further.
    If not, maybe fan fiction writers can accomplish this.
    I can only pray we get a new author or authors with as much talent as Naomi has for characters and settings.
    If ever a positive use for fan fiction, this is it
    Who has ideas for a better second and third act? Where can we discuss this?
    To Learn More
    George Monbiot’s Story of Restoration: George Monbiot: our most practical plan for a positive future in the direction of Sanders-Corbyn
    Bruce has a screenplay in a drawer where the Divine Feminine breaks out and comes forward as the climax of the third act. Contact him for details. It won an award in a contest. It needs an agent.
    SIDEBAR ~ The Power as 180 degrees from Angel Island (1914)
    Towards a new 3nd and 3rd acts, consider how The Power is a kind of negative-mirror reflection of Angel Island (1914)
    quote “… Gillmore’s largely forgotten novel Angel Island (1914). A precursor of Herland, it tells the story of five men shipwrecked on an apparently deserted South Pacific island who discover that they are being visited and observed by five magnificent winged women. At first, the men are smitten and awed, but they soon decide that they must capture the women and force them to mate and breed: “The future justifies anything. If these girls don’t come to terms, they must be made to come to terms.” With mirrors, scarves, and shiny jewelry plundered from the ship, they lure the women into a hut they call the Clubhouse; lock them in; tie them to the walls with “their hands pinioned in front of them”; and then, as the women struggle and scream, cut off their wings with shears they have been sharpening in preparation.
    “The Angels survive, but without their wings they are tamed, docile, and helpless, barely able to walk on their vestigial feet, and totally dependent on the men. They marry their captors and have children. But when they realize that the men are also planning to shear the budding wings of their little daughters, their leader Julia decides that “we must stop wanting to fly, we women. We must stop wasting our energy brooding over what’s past… we must learn to walk.” In great pain, they learn to hobble, then to run, on their tiny feet, and to fly on their stubby wings (reshorn every six months). In a triumphant scene, they escape with the children. But the book doesn’t end there. They don’t drop a boulder on the Clubhouse, or go home to their mother country. Instead, the men apologize and successfully persuade the women to return, promising to shear no more. Indeed, the Angels are overjoyed to be reunited with their husbands and, having won this concession, are ready to share their power to fly with the men. Soon, Julia bears a son with wings.
    “Ursula LeGuin, who wrote the introduction to a reprint of Angel Island in 1988, pointed out that Gillmore handled the shearing scene “evasively”; it’s not shown as a “general sadomasochistic orgy.” Moreover, “the women don’t even act angry. They weep. They go a bit crazy and come out of it.” They don’t plot to fight back or wield some shears of their own.
    “Nonetheless, LeGuin concludes, underplaying a bloody scene and avoiding a bloody response was to Gillmore’s credit. “By giving us neither, Gillmore leaves herself room to show… a real, effective anger, which does not express itself in violence.” LeGuin argues Gillmore wanted us “all to fly, together”—an uplifting and utopian feminist ending …
    /// and of#2 article on Power


  1. […] The Power by Naomi Alderman: a review by Victoria Hoyle […]

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