The Power by Naomi Alderman—Book Review – AFTER THE LAST PAGE
- 382 pages
- Published in 2016
- Science Fiction
- Winner of Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction
- Multiple POV
Four characters in a changing world, The Power follows the stories of Allie, Roxy, Tunde, and Margot. Allie’s a foster kid with a difficult set of foster parents. Roxy comes from a mafia-based family that is surrounded in danger. Tunde is a Nigerian boy with a penchant for YouTube videos. Margot is a local mayor and aspiring politician. What do they all have in common? They were all there when it started.
The Power is the story of a changing world—one where women have great physical power, and men don’t. When girls begin to be born with an electrical pulse that can bring a grown man flat to the ground, a patriarchal society shifts. The story follows the four characters as they experience the power for themselves, in different areas of the world—from the United States, to Lagos, to a brand new country.
In this unique dystopian sci-fi novel, a small twist of nature changes the world’s entire future.
TW: The content of this novel and review depict rape, religion, and politics.
The Power starts off strong, with a scene no one wants to read as a first chapter—a young girl being brutally beaten, and almost raped. While I admire Alderman’s tenacity to start a book with such a graphic start, it packs a punch that I’m not sure the reader is ready for so early on. In fact, the beginning of the book hits so fast, it’s certainly a book that will stay with readers, whether it was enjoyed or not.
While I could do without the graphic sex scenes, I enjoyed the first 100 pages of The Power. Alderman does a great job making the pages flow, and fast. The reader’s attention is grabbed, almost immediately, which is something that’s challenging for many authors. Though, with these attention grabbing scenes, the reader starts to expect some level of action—and that’s where the problems began for me with this novel.
Although the beginning starts off with a bang, The Power loses speed quickly. Once I hit about 100-150 pages in, I started to wonder where this book was going. The action scenes slow down immensely, which caused me to pause and analyze what was really happening—which was nothing. The action scenes in this book are, perhaps, one of the things that make it strong. Without the shocking twists, this book doesn’t have much to it.
Let me start off by talking about the plot design. The Power is supposed to take place over about 10 years. As the book progresses, each section is labeled with a countdown, such as “five years to go.” The problem with this? The reader expects it to lead into something. Or, perhaps, this isn’t necessarily the problem as much as it is that The Power has a rather unsatisfying and anticlimactic ending. While I won’t get into that (for the sake of spoilers), I wasn’t thrilled with how much leading-up to the ending there was, given the lack of action at the end.
The second problem I had with the plot line in The Power has to do with the pictures. For each section, there were illustrations of what seems to be relics from the past, as told from the future. However, this is never really explained—it’s just there. They are briefly mentioned in different sections, but there’s not a great reason for them, and I honestly could do without them.
Then, there’s the aspect of the notes at the beginning and end of the book. Essentially, “Naomi” has a conversation with “Neil,” who is supposed to be the actual official writer of the book. Now, my gathering from this is that Neil is made up and both Naomi and Neil’s letters are from the future, which is also made up. Though, these letters just didn’t do it for me—it didn’t really explain anything, and therefore they don’t need to be there. In fact, I didn’t even finish reading the ones at the end, I simply glanced over them. I felt that this combination of the letters, the illustrations, and the countdown to the end was a little immature, and I didn’t feel it should have been included—the book would have been better off without them.
As far as content goes for this book, like other dystopian fiction novels, this book is trying to teach us something. It’s clear that The Power is aspiring to be Margarat Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, yet without the finesse and maturity of Atwood’s writing. Something that bothered me immensely about The Power was how blatantly obvious the “moral of the story” notes were, especially when the book so clearly was inspired by Atwood’s work, which is much more subtle than this novel.
In this novel, Alderman focuses on too many issues in the plot line, and I think that’s where the story went awry for me. From Allie/Eve’s perspective, we’re looking at problems with religion. If this book followed religion alone, I think it would have been good—maybe even great. There were some very clear references to the Bible, even if cliche ones, that made sense. I liked Eve’s perspective of the power and how she tries to help other girls, even if she is a little misguided sometimes doing so. I think the “voice” she so often references is more of a schizophrenic difficulty/symptom, though she sees it as the voice of God or the devil (she’s not entirely sure, and neither is the reader). Following this story alone, The Power had enough content to focus on everything happening.
Yet, the multiple POV dilutes the plot. Each perspective holds a dystopian trope—religion, politics, freedom of speech, and the underground/mafia. Yet, as expected, each of these categories are corrupted by the power and also not explored enough throughout the plot. Because each trope isn’t fully explored, it weakens the overall point, which seems to be that women will entertain the same cruelties as men if given the power over the other sex. Beyond each of these tropes, there are also events happening in the present, environmental changes, minor characters, and the dystopian electrical/physical power aspect—it was just too much.
The Power has been out for a few years now, but when I came across it on a dystopian recommendation list from another blog, I was surprised to hear I hadn’t heard of it, especially since it claims to live up to the hype of Margaret Atwood, one of the best and most widely-known dystopian fiction authors of our time. Yet, when I actually picked up the book and read it, I wasn’t impressed—and from my research, neither were other readers.
The Power doesn’t have fantastic ratings, even if it has seems to have a big following. With over 5,000 reviews on Amazon, 44% of them were less than five stars. The book rated similarly on Goodreads with the average rating being 3.78 stars out of over 193,000 reviews.
I think the frustrating thing for me with The Power was that this book had so much potential. There was a lot here, but in this case, I don’t think that was a good thing. I wish that Alderman would have skipped the dual POV and focused on one perspective, such as just writing from Tunde’s perspective. Instead, it felt like she tried to combine all of the tropes she knew would sell, and mash them into a book that would, hopefully, be a bestseller. While this book could have been on the top of my favorites list with a unique premise and a challenging look at society, it was a flop for me.
While I likely wouldn’t recommend this book, since I didn’t enjoy it, I definitely think that the action scenes were enjoyable, and the story was very unique.
If you’ve read this book, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments. Do you agree with my assessment of The Power? How would you rate it?
Not sure what to read next? Check out my latest review, The Kindred Spirits Supper Club.