Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Power

In Naomi Alderman's new novel, The Power, young women find they can shoot lightning out of their
fingers.  I had only to read a similar summary before scurrying to Amazon UK to order a copy (it releases in the US in October).  Teen girls get the ability first, and they are able to pass it to older women by showing them how to unlock it in themselves.  Very quickly men everywhere start to panic, desperate to reverse or retard the ability in women, but girls become more and more powerful and the power imbalance begins to shift from men to women.

What's interesting in The Power is that women don't become the benevolent leaders many people (including myself) imagine we would be, but rather take on most of the poor qualities men in power possess.  The women and girls use their power to control men, some torturing men for pleasure, many becoming sexual predators.  It's not unusual for the female characters to be overwhelmingly distracted at the inappropriate moments by desire for men's bodies.  They co-opt history and religion to stake their claim to leadership.
On the morning shows, they bring in experts on human biology and prehistoric images. This carved image found in Honduras, dating back more than six thousand years, doesn't that look like a woman with lightning coming from her hands to you, Professor? Well, of course, these carvings often represent mythical and symbolic behaviours. But it could be historical, that is, could represent something that actually happened. It could, maybe. Did you know, in the oldest text, that the God of the Israelites had a sister, Anath, a teenage girl? Did you know that she was the warrior, that she was invincible, that she spoke with the lightning, that in the oldest texts, she killed her own father and took his place? She liked to bathe her feet in the blood of her enemies.
Some Spoilers

So, the book quickly changes from the initial "girl power" excitement to a handful of women who will do anything to have total control and end up, well, tearing society apart.  Although the book was a real page-turner, it caused me a fair amount of internal anguish because I truly believe that women would be fundamentally better leaders than men. Admittedly, the more I thought hey, #notallwomen, the more a teensy little bit of me thought, "OK, maybe there is something there."  A little something.

Unquestionably, Alderman is an Atwood fan - they actually published a zombie novella together on Wattpad a few years ago called The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home, and Atwood blurbed The Power with a groan-worthy "Electrifying!"  Alderman bookends her novel in a trés-Atwood style, fashioning the text as a history submitted to his publisher by Neil Adam Armon (pay close attention to those letters). The publisher, a women, is hilariously patronizing while Neil's obsequious grovelling is painfully familiar.  Throughout the book are illustrations that, at least to me, didn't make sense until the very end.  These game-like elements in the book signal Alderman's other specialty - she's the creator of a very popular app called Zombies, Run! which motivates runners to move because (you guessed it) zombies are chasing them.

The Power has already won The Bailey's Womens Prize for Fiction and I have a feeling will find considerable popularity in the US.  At this moment in history, it's feels like a bit of an odd argument to be making, and undoubtedly this novel is making a strong statement about power and what people (regardless of gender) will do to get it and what they'll do to keep it.  Perhaps when she was writing it under Theresa May, with Clinton running for president and expected to win (it was published in 2016) it was a conversation Alderman wanted more people to confront in the existing zeitgeist. Now, with the bleak politics and masculine posturing between two idiots like Trump and Kim Jong Un making nuclear war seem unbearably possible, I wish more than ever we had more women in power.

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