The Power – by Naomi Alderman

The PowerThe Power by Naomi Alderman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d give 3.5 but Goodreads doesn’t really do half stars for individual reviews.

Generally speaking, I prefer subtle meta discussions and clear plots. The Power is part of a trend/subgenre of slightly dystopian spec fic that likes to have those things the other way around: very stark meta discussion and less emphasis on tightly-written plots.

Therefore, when I say I find it to be an unsubtle novel (and I do), what I mean is that the moral message as such comes across as very labored to me. The author goes to great pains to be visceral, something else which I feel is slightly trendy these days, and while the descriptions are excellently written, you can definitely have too much of a good thing. A book which wants to discuss the power relationship between men and women, yet is saturated in gratuitous violence and rape, loses the very qualities it requires to field that discussion successfully – those being, nuance and personal devastation.**

That’s not a problem per se, just a personal preference. Other people, probably ones who tend to read more crossover/lit lite/contemporary literary, will almost certainly like the novel how it is. And the shock value can be very effective; besides which, everyone will have different opinions on how much is too much. I can only give you mine.

Meanwhile, though there’s a lot of good discussion in the book, the plot and pacing are disjointed (from a narrative perspective, I mean). It’s hard to remain invested in characters who change so much across the years, particularly when, excepting Allie/Eve, you tend not to see that change occurring, as you only encounter the new version of the characters.

Other people have made Margaret Atwood comparisons and I think that’s accurate. My reaction to this is similar to my reaction to the Handmaid’s Tale: somewhat over-the-top and labored, with a wavering narrative arc and weak ending (Note: this isn’t as wavering or weak as I found the Handmaid’s Tale to be, but it evoked a similar sense for me.) There’s a sense that sometimes, the violence and rape are being used to spice up the narrative for cheap reaction, or to string it together, and that’s not what you want at all – it defies the underlying point of this book.

It’s not a bad book. I didn’t love it or hate it, but I wasn’t wowed by it, and also I really struggled through the early portions. If not for the fact that my book club is reading it I’m not sure I would have persevered, although once it gets going it has interesting things to say.

**NB: I don’t know what the technical term would be, but “personal devastation” is how I think of/categorise that crucial reaction whereby a story makes you feel connected to an individual’s internal tragedy. So a bland statement of fact might be “John Doe’s mother died” but the personal devastation aspect would be bringing John Doe’s pain to life. I have very little sense of personal devastation in a novel which features repeated incidences of supposed personal devastation.

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