“The shape of power is always the same.”
The Power is such an amazing book! Anyone who enjoys reading about the complexity and reality of power, both perceived and enforced, implied and physical, will enjoy this novel. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and The Power shows us the harsh truth in those four words.
We open with a series of letters between two people. There is a work of fiction being presented for one to read of the others. When the letters stop, we don’t get dates, we simply get a countdown in years. We’re counting down to something, but we don’t yet know what.
We get the novel told in four alternating points of view. Each character, Allie, Roxy, Tunde, and Margot present us with a perspective on the world we find ourselves flung into. A world where suddenly, out of nowhere, women discover they have a physical power residing within them. In a new organ called a skein, attached to their collarbone, women can now create electricity and shoot it out through their hands. Young women can trigger this power in older women.
I really liked the symbolism of having the youth wake up the older women. There’s something powerful in the idea that youth leads the way for change, but also that they won’t leave the older women behind. That is one of the more positive symbols in the novel.
But with any good, there is also bad, and the fact that the more powerful will turn on the less powerful is a reality that couldn’t be ignored. In this case it extends to less powerful women as well, and I liked that Jos, Margot’s daughter was the representation of this dark side to this new world.
These alternating perspectives help us unfold this world in such a detailed way. Rather than being told one point of view, we see the scope of this power on a world perspective. Which is so necessary for the totality of this story. One voice wouldn’t have fully captured the huge perspective that this type of power shift would have.
“It is only that every day one grows a little, every day something is different, so that in the heaping up of days suddenly a thing that was impossible has become possible.”
The writing is smart and edgy with just enough realism to make the horror slowly set in. You feel the shift in power happen slowly, but also all at once. As you read through each narrators experience of the world around them, combined with bright and sunshiny news reporters, the book reads like a surreal nightmare. Anyone who adores the eery and terrifying worlds that Margaret Atwood creates will quickly fall in love with The Power.
“When historians talk of this moment they talk about “tensions” and “global instability”. They posit the “resurgence of old structures” and the “inflexibility of existing belief patterns”. Power has her ways. She acts on people, and people act on her.”
Because I want to discuss some of the incredibly fascinating points, the rest of this review will contain some spoilers. So if you haven’t read this book, please STOP READING!!!
The sheer brilliance of this novel happens at the end. This is where you really get the final sucker punch, and this twist is absolutely stunning in its brilliance. Where we finally see that this narration has been a fiction wrapped in fiction. An alternate history where the acts of the past are being pieced together by an author, hoping to read into the clues that history has left behind.
This mix of alternate history combined with dystopia creates an intoxicating blend of fiction that is breathtaking and impossible to put down. What’s genius about this, is how with a single twist, Aldermann was able to take our ideas about women and turn them upside down. It isn’t simply the entire novel we now see. It is a history where one gender has possibly taken control of the narrative and conditioned the other into certain behaviors and traits.
We often hear how women would be better leaders because violence isn’t in us the way it is men. And maybe that’s true. But maybe it isn’t. However, the allure of power is something that I think has been documented fairly extensively over time. I think that regardless of culture, regardless of how systematically oppressed women have been, if they woke up to having an actual power literally in their fingertips, enough of them would seize it and this change to society would happen.
I love good villains. Not for the evil they inflict, but because we do all carry the capacity for great acts of good and horrific acts of bad. It is a matter of how far we are pushed. Exploring ideas like this really makes you stop and face the reality that perhaps good people would do terrible things if pushed far enough. That perhaps good people would relish the power to suddenly control their own lives in a way they never could before. That perhaps might does make for right, and it is only the lesser that pleads for peace. Not everyone would succumb to that darkness, but how many would?
Throughout this whole novel, though, we don’t necessarily see villains. We see different characters coming to terms with this gigantic change. We see them witness great acts of kindness but we also see them behaving horrifically. And knowing the oppression that some of these women in some of these countries have faced, it is both understandable and horrifying.
Tunde is one of the most interesting characters, partly because he is the only male voice. I think it’s very real that even until the end, he held onto the belief that it wasn’t yet that bad. That his assumed and unspoken power of just being a man, an idea that he had grown up with and become used to, slowly slipped away. Again, we are empathetic to his plight but it’s also difficult to feel completely sorry for him as well.
The final piece that I found brilliant is Mother Eve and the voice she heard. Throughout the book I was reading this as a current unfolding of events, not aware of the twist that came at the end. So I was trying to figure out if this was actually going to be a significant piece of her character, or if she was just crazy. Knowing that the end has this as a fiction novel 5,000 years in the future, where what we thought is today turns out to be the past suddenly made her voice make sense.
It is obvious that women rewrote history. The idea that men could be police officers, soldiers or aggressive was ridiculous to the women of the future. There was a feminine slant of religion. So I think using this fiction as understanding the source of this history and this religion was smart. We often use realistic fiction to understand history and read the signs left. To do the same in this context made so much sense to me.
Overall this book was stunning in execution. The exploration of all things power is chilling and eye opening. I loved the idea of turning gender norms on their head, on really facing the idea that power doesn’t care what gender embodies it, only that it is embraced. This is a book I can see gracing college campuses and being examined for it’s ideas for a long time. I am so glad I jumped into this buddy read on Instagram!