The Power – Naomi Alderman

Right. This is now my third attempt at writing a review, however brief, for this book. It’s a very weird sensation. The difficulty is in the fact that despite this book being very good (it was the first book to truly engross me for some time, and it did so during a period of a lot of personal problems that have been distracting me), every time I try to write a review out comes a long list of gripes. Let me see if I can hash that out.

Naomi Alderman’s The Power is a novel that explores the time period when women all over the world find themselves the bearers of an organ that allows them the ability to generate minor electrical shocks. Every single in the world is gifted with a built in cattle-prod, and a full on gender war ensues. Some of this reads like Andrea Dworkins had a cocaine fueled fantasy dream, but frankly I felt like the overtones were much more apologetic than Joanna Russ. The end of the book specifically hits you pretty hard about the head with the book’s thesis, but it makes it pretty clear that despite the brutality of the book, the moral of the story is not a call for violence.

As I said in the intro, the book had a long list of positives. There is a lot of what I like to call ‘technical mastery’ here. All the things that need to be done to write a good novel are here, and they are better than I have found them in many other stories. I liked the characters (in as much as I was meant to like them), and even the ones with villainous leanings had sympathetic sides. The novel is well placed, and it builds and raises tension in just the right ways at just the right time. The story feels like watching an avalanche build in slow motion as it cascades down a mountain. It is a beautiful wreck. The writing did a lot to keep this going. There is a scene in here where a character undergoes an involuntary surgery, and my god did it really hit me hard.

(Aside on that last point – A lot of other reviews I saw complained about the massive amounts of sexual violence in this book. None of that affected me as much as the surgery scene. But then again, I have read almost EVERYTHING by Sam Delany. So, there is that.)

And so the problem? It was just some of the philosophical details. The novel is meant to show us that power corrupts, but it seems to consider physical violence the only form of power in existence. It isn’t. There were pretty frequent moments where I had to put the book down becuase I began to think about all the actual cases of my life where I saw or experienced cases of non-physical violence being used to abuse someone. There are implications to this, and the book just does not get into them.

I would hate myself if I also didn’t bring up that within the narrative there is the action of (I am reasonably sure was meant to be interpreted as) an actually fucking deity. The Christian one. There are implications to this, as the Christian deity is an omnimax deity. It’s pretty terrifying to think about.

By the time this post is published, I will likely have long since published an earlier, more moaning version of this post on my sister blog.

My pisspoor analogy for how I felt reading this would involve imagining watching a presentation on some aspect of philosophy, and while the presenter was engaging and thorough, they didn’t mention a few of your personal hobby horses. It’s not like I disagreed with the thesis, but I personally would have had a few different clauses in there.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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