Imagine, if you will, that thanks to a biological anomaly, women discover they have the ability to produce electricity. At first it’s a novelty, something that fascinates society. But then it becomes scary; girls and women start using the power against men and boys and world order is freaked out and threatened. There are protests and laws passed in order to curb the women, but they keep getting stronger and stronger. Men feel threatened. The world is turned on its head and, eventually, women become the ‘stronger sex’.
This is the story told in The Power, a futuristic feminist dystopian novel in the tradition of books such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Only Ever Yours. The world is seen through the eyes of some of the women: a religious mystic, a gangster’s daughter, a politician and her daughter; as well as from the viewpoint of a young male reporter who has documented the rise of the power and the overthrow of centuries of cultural realities. And, like a patriarchal society, this new world order does have problems. Resentment breeds terrorism. People get out of control. One of the most shocking incidents in the book is a scene in which there are war crimes committed against the most vulnerable. There’s no way that the writer of Zombies, Run would allow her creation to be a Utopia.
I think I read this book at the right time: we’re living in an age where politicians are threatening to roll back hard-won rights for women and we have a president in the White House who is considering all kinds of problematic policies relating to reproductive rights. Women are marching and making their voices heard (albeit without using electric shocks). It’s tempting to think about what would happen if a woman was in the White House, if for whatever reason, patriarchal society was turned on its head. One of the things Naomi Alderman’s work does for me is that it makes me think very hard about what I would do in certain situations (I am still plotting how I would survive the zombie apocalypse and I haven’t played Zombies, Run in ages. My answer would be: I’d survive on nettles and other bits that grow near by; offer my knitting skills to make socks for those more equipped for fighting; loot other people’s houses/Waterstones for books at the first chance. I’d probably not survive long, to be honest.)
But what would I do if I suddenly came to possess a strange new power? Would it alienate me from my husband and son? Would I use it for good? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that I am watching the world with bated breath and I just can’t get this novel out of my head at all.