By Heather Howard / Japan News Staff WriterThe Power
By Naomi Alderman
Penguin Books, 340pp
This book is alive. This book is real.
The premise may be science fiction: Women around the world discover they can generate electricity with their bodies, and that they can use it as a weapon. But novelist Naomi Alderman’s story is about how they and the rest of the world react to that power, and for that story, the only word is real. From the intriguing first page to the stunning conclusion, readers will believe in “The Power” and its people.
It begins with an attack on Roxy, the 14-year-old daughter of a British mobster. Trying to save her mother from rival thugs who’ve invaded their home, Roxy suddenly feels a strange new instinct stirring inside her — “she cuppeth the lightening in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.” She is one of the first, and soon the ability is appearing around the globe. It emerges first in young girls, who show older women how to wield it, and suddenly men everywhere are plunged into a world of danger and fear.
American mayor Margot steps up with measures allegedly meant to contain the swelling attacks on men but actually to grab her chance for political glory.
Chaos also becomes a ladder for Allie, an American orphan who flees her abusive foster home amid the panic. Guided by a mysterious voice she believes is her mother, Allie creates an entirely new identity, one that will change the world just as much as the women’s power.
Multiple readings are a must to fully appreciate the many facets of this book, though you may well need a break in between, to recover from the emotional roller coaster. Alderman’s prose is sharp and spare; it strikes directly into the heart.
There’s plenty to laugh at — the hosts of a morning news show appear at intervals throughout the story, and Alderman nails their plastic peppiness. Early on, a guest professor tells them about an ancient teenage goddess said to have “spoke with the lightening” and bathed her feet in the blood of her enemies. “That doesn’t sound like much of a beauty routine, now does it, Kristen?” “Certainly does not, Tom.”
Yet already the winds are changing. Moments later: “You’d tell me if you could do something like that, wouldn’t you, Kristen?” “Well, you know, Tom, maybe I’d want to keep a thing like that to myself.”
Patronizing remarks at work are soon the least of it. Some of the violence is justified in the beginning — there’s a fierce, dark satisfaction when victims of sex trafficking are finally able to strike back — but it grows increasingly arbitrary with every passing day. As men resist, extremism grows on both sides, more and more destructive, more and more immoral, with seemingly no end in sight.
How can it end? As the voice so often counsels Allie: “The only way you’re safe is if you own the place.”
Where to Read
Anywhere you can devote plenty of time, because you won’t be able to put this one down.