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The Power by Naomi Alderman

We’re only pretending everything is normal
because we don’t know what else to do.
As a man, I feel squeamish offering my opinion on a novel which subverts the established patriarchy and reverses the balance of gender inequality. As a human, I am equally squeamish about prefacing any sentence with “As a man…” Thankfully, I’ve let this one slide for five months and as such, I can’t remember very much without going back and reviewing several entertaining and effusively supportive reviews*, and so my opinions are muted and diffused by the dimming fog of memory.

However, these reviews threw up a curveball. I had no idea Allie / Mother Eve wasn’t white. Did I miss something obvious? Was I just being obtuse? Oh god, now I’m applying my liberal but ignorant Anglo-centric race bias.

What a contemptible WAS (formerly) P-ish human male person.

Still, since I can’t win this one by virtue of the dual accidents of birth and upbringing, I’m very happy to sound off in support of Naomi Alderman’s fourth novel.

It’s good.

Forgetting the correspondence between future anthropologists speculating on the reasons behind their matriarchal society which I found a little trite and intrusive (as are the archaeological drawings and articles dotted throughout), it’s pleasing to read and fairly urges the reader onwards, something my literary hero Kurt Vonnegut stresses is the only reason for anything to happen in a story. It’s funny and shocking (…) and horrific and wise in equal measure, and holds together resolutely, never descending into a Two Ronnies-esque inversion of gender roles.

Someone said it’s this generation’s The Handmaid’s Tale, someone else said it owes a debt to Ursula Le Guin and Charlotte Perkins Gillman (or It might have been the same someone), and I say if you like novels where the inherent vileness and moral brittleness of the majority of unthinking human beings is probed with an endoscope then have a crack at this. Yes, women have the power to zap anyone they choose, and often other people by accident, so yes, of course, The Power is subversive, but women don’t do much in the whole matriarchy of peace and feminine wisdom-type-thing portrayed in Herland and preached by Mother Eve. Women, it seems, are just as likely to abuse their power as are men.

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. 

One of them says, 'Why did they do it?'And the other answers, 'Because they could.'That is the only answer there ever is.

And that’s just a bit depressing.

*Which you can read in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian.


How's about that then?

A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson

Ah, what would be a review penned by yours truly without some sort of grovelling apology at the outset? A better review no doubt, but that aside I can't help but continue the tiresome tradition with an apology. Sorry to my regular robotic readers (hi bots!) but I have been very neglectful of the blog of late, having been tied up with my pursuit of a broader spectrum of dilettantism; I've been taking part in a number of MOOCs offered by various HEIs on the FutureLearn platform. Worth checking out if you ask me.

(Subtle enough plug, you think?)
Anyway, the break afforded by a foray into further education has proved something of a test for Jasper Gibson and his fiction. In truth, it took me a little while to remember what exactly the novel was about, who was in it, and how I felt about the whole thing. Instant alarm bells. Of course, having had a break, I'd had a good crack at filling my head with a whole bunch of other things worth remembering, so maybe it all just got squeeze…

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Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

The first bad thing I might say about Engleby is that for some reason, it put me in a foul mood; as if by some sort of literary osmosis I had absorbed Michael Engleby’s uniformly critical point of view and had turned it on the world and my unsuspecting wife particularly. She was not a happy bunny. The first good thing I might say is that this didn’t last long, especially as the next book I picked up was a Charles Portis novel which quickly dispelled the gloom. Is this a triumph of the suspension of disbelief, of verisimilitude, of getting the reader to buy into the character? Or is it simply because the only point of view we get for 350 pages is that of “Toilet” Engleby himself? It’s hard not to warm to him even if you don’t like him or his fairly stiff opinions, and that must be a victory for Faulks. His protagonist protests that his memory is spotty – spotty enough that the major crisis in the novel is not really uncovered (officially – the twist was so obvious I guessed it from read…