November 01, 2017
Emma Watson picks Naomi Alderman's 'The Power' for Our Shared Shelf
Our next book will be a speculative fiction novel called The Power by Naomi Alderman, winner of the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. The book asks a question we might have all asked at one time: what would the world be like if women were in charge?
In the book, teenage girls all over the world begin to develop the ability to do harm by transmitting electricity through their fingertips. News spreads quickly over social media and soon the girls are teaching older women how to harness their dormant powers. In a few short years, gender roles are reversed and the world is run by women. As governments are toppled, a new woman’s republic is born, and there’s a single new religion led by a cult leader called Mother Eve.
The book follows four main characters: Tunde, a male journalist who is following the emerging stories, and three women with new found powers, Roxy, Allie and Margot. Their paths cross as the world is heading into political and religious turmoil.
Alderman challenges the cliché that women are more noble than men, and that a world run by women would be more gentle, with benevolent leaders and no war. In fact, women become power hungry and begin to repress men. They commit war atrocities, perform male genital mutilation, rape and maim for sport and kill to occupy land.
With power dynamics reversed, the women don’t choose a righteous path - they act no better than men who have abused power throughout history. I think Alderman’s point is that people who abuse, do so because they can.
Alderman presents the main part of the book as an early manuscript of an historical novel, written thousands of years in a future where women still rule, by a male novelist ‘Neil Armon’. Through letter exchanges between Neil and his mentor, a female writer called ‘Naomi’, we see a world where men’s worth is only in their looks and ‘men’s literature’ isn’t taken as seriously as women’s. This is a really clever literary device which highlights how absurd rigid gender roles are.
Neil thinks he can prove that women weren’t always the ones in positions of power, but Naomi can’t see how the history books would lie. Neil’s reality is one where men’s contributions to history have been misattributed, or even stolen, by women.
This made me think about the fact that history was written by those who held the power. It also made me think about how the distribution of power and gender roles throughout history often seems arbitrary, and how they could have perhaps ended up very differently.
I’m excited to hear what you all make of the novel.
Emma and the Our Shared Shelf team