Books on GIF #62 — 'The Power' by Naomi Alderman
|Books on GIF||Nov 19, 2017|
This Sunday's book is 'The Power' by Naomi Alderman.
I want to start this review by talking about She-Ra, Princess of Power. For those of you who did not grow up watching 1980s cartoons, this is She-Ra:
She-Ra has a twin brother named He-Man, who had a separate TV show. They both transform into super powerful beings when they hold aloft a sword and say magic words. When He-Man transforms after lightning zaps his sword, he says, 'I have the power!' Here he is:
When She-Ra holds up her sword and is changed by a shower of sparks, she says, 'I am She-Ra!' Here she is:
I think it's interesting how both characters understand power. For He-Man, power is something to 'have.' It exists outside of him, and when he possesses it he has more of it than others do, and he is more powerful than them. She-Ra, however, knows her power already exists within her, and when she transforms she is reaffirming herself. She says, 'I am.' She is empowered. I think Naomi Alderman confuses the latter with the former in 'The Power.' The book, which has won awards in the U.K., was given to me by my dear friend Maggie, and it has an awesome premise: Through a chemical weapons mishap, women have developed the ability to project lightning from their hands like Storm from the X-Men:
Women initially use their ability to free themselves from rapists, Eastern European sex traffickers, oppressive Muslim regimes and other bad things created by men. And bad men certainly deserve their comeuppance. Judging by today's headlines, it seems just about every man deserves a well-placed zap like:
The book follows a handful of point-of-view characters. There's Roxy (the daughter of an English gangster), Margot (an American mayor who becomes a senator and creator of a women's paramilitary organization) and Allie (a teenage rape survivor who becomes a religious figure known as Mother Eve). There's also a 'not all men' character named Tunde, a guy whose instant success as a freelance journalist is, frankly, harder to believe than women suddenly shooting lightning from their hands. I won't go into each of the women's story arcs here, but they all end up turning bad, because, as we all know, power corrupts. They become drug dealers, false gods and dictators who only want:
So basically, once women attain power, they become like the worst of men. To me it just reinforced tropes about women and strength, that to be a strong woman one must become more masculine. I wanted this book to suggest something more affirming and different. Something more like:
Maybe that's a trope, too. But it's a nicer one, no? I started reading 'The Power' hoping it would be an exciting misandrist revenge tale. But by the end, I didn't want that and instead hoped for something deeper and more meaningful. So did Donna, who read the book before I did. I thought Alderman missed an opportunity to explore female empowerment and to challenge men to think and behave differently. This book replaces one oppressive regime with another and offers us no hope for the future, just the same evil put in women's hands. What a bummer.
'The Power' by Naomi Alderman was published by Viking in 2016, and in 2017 by Penguin Books in the U.K. and Little Brown & Co. in the U.S. 341 pages.
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What's next? In the coming weeks Books on GIF will provide you with a handy guide for holiday book shopping, as well as reviews of 'The Shipping News' by Annie Proulx, 'Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay' by Elena Ferrante and 'Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind's Eye' by Alan Dean Foster, among others.
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* Thanks especially to Donna for copy editing this review!