Naomi Alderman’s Baileys Prize-winning novel The Power, is a dark, powerful story of how one thing can change the world forever. At first there are isolated incidents, girls across continents realise they have a new ability to release an electrical discharge that can inflict pain on others. It’s an epidemic that spreads across countries and generations. Younger girls wake up the power in their mothers and grandmothers. It’s been buried in them all along, a genetic mutation that sits at their collarbones, waiting, and when it finally emerges the balance of power in the world suddenly shifts.
No one comes out of The Power with their hands clean. There is an initial panic at the new world order, an attempt to control and limit the teenage girls in the present day who suddenly have the potential to harm and kill. There is suspicion, fear and anger in the air. Reality might have altered abruptly, but attitudes take much longer, and the four main characters have to tread carefully.
Women are liberated from perilous situations. They have been given a weapon to fight back those who have oppressed, controlled and abused them. To some of the women, their abilities are a release from years of suffering, and their rage is uncontainable. Allie, a teenager foster child, uses her spark to escape the toxic household she lives in, Roxy the daughter of a British crime leader uses hers to avenge her mother, and Margot, an American politician, takes advantage of the uncertainty to advance her career. A young Nigerian man, Tunde takes it upon himself to record the revolution, following the riots and unrest, and begins to realise that the sense of safety he has taken for granted might not be guaranteed anymore.
The changing attitudes point towards parallel issues in the real world. Women are mocked and ostracised for their lack of power, young women are under immense pressure to appear strong, girls born without a skein (the genetic mutation which causes their electrical energy) and boys who are born with one are treated as outcasts. Perhaps one of the most striking ways the shift in demonstrated is through a pair of news anchors. When girls first start exhibiting the power, an older man and a younger woman report the daily news on American TV. The male anchor makes statements, and the younger woman who agrees, waves away her own views with self-deprecation. As the power takes hold, the older man is fired and a young, attractive boy takes his place, but it is now the woman who holds authority and the young man who gushes at the bravery of women.
Religion and history also play a significant part in solidifying these beliefs. The book is set up as a historical novel, written by a man who wonders whether there was a time when it was men not women in power. Relics from the past are interpreted to support this interpretation, and the artefacts that have been destroyed, those artefacts that didn’t fit the matriarchal narrative, raises questions about how true our own history is.
Reading the book, gives you an unshakable sense that things are heading towards a chaotic end. An undercurrent of danger runs through the narrative and none of the characters seem aware of how devastating the result could be. Power doesn’t necessarily bring out the best in people, and as the women in the novel grapple to maintain control, to assert their authority, to build their empires, it seems it easily corrupts what good is there.
The Power is a captivating novel, that turns the world on its head.