Review of The Power
Naomi Alderman writes for The Guardian, presents on BBC radio, got a grant to talk writing with Margaret Atwood and wins lots of prestigious awards. With so much of the literary upper crust backing her, I was tempted to be different and find fault with her science fiction novel The Power. However, after reading other reviews, I’ve concluded that it’s more important to point out that The Power is an excellent book. I spent an evening reading it when I had other things planned, so I definitely enjoyed it.
The central theme of The Power is that women throughout the world develop the ability to generate electricity through the palms of their hands. This makes them physically more powerful than men. One teenage girl in foster care seems to receive divine guidance about how to use her new ability although it may be up to readers to decide whether this is real or a hallucination. The book follows a handful of characters through the ensuing changes.
Many of Alderman’s critics wanted more characters. One YouTuber wanted to see men welcoming the change. Other reviewers on Amazon wanted to see women using their new power more responsibly. As an author, I feel called to point out that one cannot represent all possible characters while still telling a focused tale.
Virtually all novels are about specific people and the consequences of their choices. If there are too many characters, the book is almost certain to become confusing. Alderman’s book is not an analysis of the probable outcomes of women developing electrical powers in real life, it is a look at how her protagonists handled the situation in the moment. It takes poetic license with military and political details, but it succeeds at portraying role reversal, it succeeds with its vivid descriptions, it succeeds at creating characters one can care about and it succeeds as a story.