In The Power, the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power—they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.
From award-winning author Naomi Alderman, The Power is speculative fiction at its most ambitious and provocative, at once taking us on a thrilling journey to an alternate reality, and exposing our own world in bold and surprising ways.
Author: Naomi Alderman
“You cannot get there from here.”
The Power was not a light read; it was not comfortable. It was weighty and important composed of layers and layers just waiting to be peeled back. I went into it without any real expectations, but still, I never could have imagined this novel would turn out to be what it is.
On the Day of the Girls, young women around age 13 suddenly discover that their skein, a previously unrecognized organ over their collarbone, has come alive. Through it, they are able to channel dangerous amounts of electricity through their hands. Some have more power, and some have less, but all the girls seem to have it. New babies are born with it, and the young can wake it up in women older than them.
“The men flinch. The women stare hungrily. Their eyes are parched for the sight of it.”
We follow four(ish) different characters’ storylines, separate and also intertwined, as the world begins to change. Schools are segregated by gender; men are afraid. Developed societies try to pretend it will go away someday, and countries in which women have long been oppressed discover that they are powerless no longer. Some women hide it, some seek to do good, and some become drunk with their new power. The gender imbalance that exists today, in real life, reverses.
“It doesn’t matter that she shouldn’t, that she never would. What matters is that she could, if she wanted. The power to hurt is a kind of wealth.”
I have not read anything else like this, either in books or online. It speaks to the pain and anger that many women feel nowadays; what would happen to the world if those feelings were suddenly unleashed? If something tipped, all at once, and striking back was easy? Women are not morally superior to men just because women are oppressed and men are the oppressors. Everyone is a human being, and no matter your gender, power corrupts—totally. “Power has her ways. She acts on people, and people act on her.” This isn’t something I have ever considered before, and it has already started a major shift in my way of thinking about the world.
Naomi Alderman’s writing is superb. Every single word is chosen with care, and nothing means only one thing. It’s hypnotizing, in fact. The biblical references throughout are masterful (casual example: “…the imaginations of young people, which are now what they have always been and ever shall be”). Even apart from the character arcs that are definitively biblical, as the idea of God shifts from God the Father to God the Mother, references to religion and the way humanity bends and shapes it to our will is a constant hum in the back of the book’s subconscious.
“This is how it works. The younger women can wake it up in the older ones; but from now on all women will have it.”
I also think one of my favorite things—one of the things I most admire that Alderman did—was that this power woke up in young women and spread to the older generations. And from now on, the younger ones will have it, the older ones will have it; a tipping point was reached, and the young women changed the way women existed, and none of them can ever un-know what they now know. Does that sound familiar to anyone else?
And the story would have been enough to keep my mind working for a good, long time, but the structure of the novel—and its ending—added so much more. I won’t say more on that here because it was so powerful for me to come into it on my own, but wow.
And that recurring quote—”You cannot get there from here”—the depth of that sentence still has me reeling. Are we too wounded to get there from here? To build a world that’s good for everyone, so scarred by everything that has come before?
There is so, so much more to be said on this, but I don’t think I’ve even begun to internalize it all yet. I’m really excited to discuss it with other women at a book club meetup in a few weeks. It’s one of those books that just need discussion.
Just…trust me. Don’t miss this one.