Sunday, June 21, 2020

Naomi Alderman's The Power looks at how women might wield real power

Naomi Alderman's speculative fiction novel The Power is based on a pretty simple premise: how would the world change if all the women suddenly realized that they had a new electric power in their fingertips, a power strong enough enough to kill, but subtle enough (with practice) to elicit exquisite pleasure, or even enable a limited kind of mind control.
The nitty-gritty of how this power arose does not have to be spelled out or agonized over in too much detail - that is not the point of the novel; it's not that kind of novel. It's more in the ball-park of allegory than science fiction.
Emboldened by not feeling constantly threatened by superior male strength, centuries of patriarchy crumble almost overnight. Whole countries, with female populations inured to, and ground down by, domeatic violence, subjugation and human trafficking, reinvent themselves as strong, progressive, female-led republics. New matriarchal religions spring up. Party politics is redefined. Dating becomes a whole new paradigm.
But this is no simplistic femtopia. The new religion quickly falls into the trap of many of the old patriarchal religions, full of charlatan miracles and money-making schemes. Some women go over to the dark side that lurks behind every power, indulging in revenge, punishment, lax morals, humiliation, cruelty and sadism. New-found confidence evolves into hubris and nepotism; ambition spirals into madnesss; criminal enterprises pass into female hands, essentially unchanged; paranoid female dictators arise, and pro-male terrorist groups grow up to oppose them; men are tortured and killed, and their deaths go unreported; male repression morphs into female repression; one hierarchy replaces another, almost imperceptibly.
It's a novel about human fallibility. It's Animal Farm without the animals. It's a reverse Handmaid's Tale. It's actually a bit depressing and dispiriting. But it's certainly an interesting read, and the unexpected addendum, from a remove of 5,000 years in the future, is a real thought-jerker.

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