Archive | March, 2017

The Power by Naomi Alderman… READ IT!

20 Mar

A friend told me that I had to read The Power by Naomi Alderman. It wasn’t really on my radar until that point but man oh man am I glad I read it. (And I’m suddenly self-conscious about my choice of phrase there.) It’s one of those books that stays with you long after you stop reading. I think I read something that said it “will change the way you look at everything.” This isn’t hyperbole, although I’d probably describe it as bringing everything into sharp (and terrible) focus. More than once had to stop reading on the Tube because I realised I had started crying. That’s power, that is. 

Here’s a description of the book from the author’s website. In short, women suddenly acquire the ability to be physically dominant over men, and this changes the power dynamics between the sexes in ways that highlight the awful things we take for granted in our own patriarchal society. 

I rode the wave of the writing. I found the style taut and urgent and perfect for the story being told. I felt the book had as much to say about the societal pressures on men as it has to say about the way women are treated, and as well as being about gender, it is definitely also about power itself and the subtle way in which it is expressed (and the way in which the presence or absence of it permeates everything.) One character, a politician, ceases to give a shit about or be intimidated by a rival once she knows she has the ability to hurt him physically (even though he doesn’t know.) It reminded me of when I started to practise martial arts as a child: up until that point, I got picked on, and got into quite a lot of fights trying to defend myself. After a few months, I didn’t have any more fights, and I’m sure it was just down to the way I carried myself: I just wasn’t scared of getting hit any more.

I particularly liked the exchanges between Kristen and Tom (and later Matt), and the creeping way they were integrated into the main text, just as such frothy, reductive journalism does seem to creep into everything at the moment. I also loved the framing exchanges between the fictional author and his mentor, thousands of years in the future. I’d say it’s implied, rather than stated, that religion lies at the root of our own existing patriarchies, just as religion is wielded as a conscious weapon for control by Mother Eve in this book. I found the description of male genital mutilation, and of women as being naturally aggressive because they “have babies to protect” particularly thought-provoking. 

One might be tempted to think the book is suggesting that it is inevitable that those in power will abuse it. However, I think that’s missing the point of the story. The point is to shine a light on aspects of our existing cultures by completely reversing the balance of gender power. It is deliberately shocking (haha, no pun intended) but never sensationalist, and it deliberately takes things to their most extreme conclusion, but none of it is worse than what is happening to women right now.

Anyway: read it. Everyone should. 

[And now the weather on the ones… Sorry, couldn’t resist!]

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