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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.


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