Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Power of The Power

Photo by Amy Brandon


For a book I almost didn’t finish and certainly didn’t love, The Power by Naomi Alderman has dominated an awful lot of my thinking lately. So many questions, so many interpretations.

Most of the reactions of the women I know who’ve read this book seem to be centered around the female on male violence. That violence is what almost made me stop reading. I find myself abandoning books very often that include male on female violence because I’m tired of dehumanizing misogyny, and because I find any kind of violence disturbing. Perhaps an uncomfortable question to ask myself is why I was able to read past the dehumanizing female on male violence. I didn’t like it, and I felt like some of it went way too far, but I do understand the point the author was making with it.

The most common response I’ve heard from other readers, all of whom are female, interestingly enough, has been that they were disappointed with the way the women in the book used the power they were given. They all believe, as I do, that women would behave better. One person said that because women know what it is to be oppressed, she believes women would not jump straight to being oppressors. Another woman mentioned that women tend to be more nurturing and loving than men so it should follow that women would be kinder leaders. From the narrow view of my own experience, I agree with both of these assessments, but I don’t know many women who have survived the kinds of experiences that Allie, Roxy, and Tatiana (three of the women in The Power) survived. I don’t know what my reaction to men would be if I had lived their lives. I do understand their bent to revenge more than the character, Margot’s, who seems to be a power-at-all-cost politician. I have no personal knowledge of or experience with a woman like this, although I assume they exist.

Another common comment other readers made was that they liked the book for the first hundred pages or so but not after that. It was shortly after those first 100 pages that I remember thinking I might not be able to finish the book. I detest violence. I can’t even watch old cartoons, never could. I don’t care about power. I don’t understand the desire to be in control of another person. I don’t understand the concept of revenge at all. I do understand that I speak out of the privilege of my own safety.

Violence, revenge, control, and well, power, is what this book is about. Now, granted the book is hyperbolic and satirical, but those two traits don’t necessarily make the violence any easier to read. The plot moves along very well, and I’m sure for people inured to CSI and Law and Order and all those other TV shows the majority of us consume, the violence will not be an issue.  Or anyway, it shouldn’t be. If you can consume male on female violence on a regular basis, then one book with a reversal should not be an issue for you. If you’re like me, and you generally eschew anything with violence, consider yourself forewarned. If you’re looking for love, peace, hope, or redemption, look elsewhere. Still, I think the warning this book provides makes it worth reading.

8 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

I liked this book but some of the violence was difficult to read. It also made me think. I agree that, while some women would behave like they do in this book, if women had this power they would not be nearly as violent as this boon portrays. I think that there are evolutionary biological reasons for this. With that, I think that Alderman, though I disagree with her, did a neat job of arguing against biological evolution and gender differences toward the end of the book. My commentary on this novel is here http://briansbabblingbooks.blogspot.com/2017/11/the-power-by-naomi-alderman.html?m=1

Amy said...

Brian, thank you so much for commenting and for your link. Your blog post is fantastic. I was so wanting a cogent commentary from a male on this book. Tomorrow, when I haven't just finished a bottle of wine, I want to re-read and think more clearly on your post. I truly do think this book opens a Pandora's box of gender role questions. It's so difficult for we gender-conditioned people to see what truly is versus what we've been programmed to see. I LOVE how much this book has made us all think!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Amy. I find these subjects so interesting. I would just add that there are several novels that explore these issues, I thought thaf the best that I have read was Sheri Tepper‘s The Gate to Women’s Country. I also thought that it took the most realistic, scientificly based view on the difference between large groups of women and men.

Amy said...

Thanks, Brian...I'll add that one to my TBR list.

thecuecard said...

You raise an interesting point about whether Women leaders would make a more peaceful world etc. It seems Alderman's take is that Power corrupts... & perhaps to some degree it probably does no matter the gender. I like to think women would be better leaders too though i've been around women who also are terrible with power etc. Still I'd pushed for women in leadership roles! I almost chucked the book too -- perhaps it felt a bit all over the place to me & i needed some more story to latch onto. I actually started liking it more towards the end of the book when Roxy and Tunde teamed up .... I started to sympathize with Roxy & get her story. I found Alderman's talent pretty great in the dialogue and modern-scheme of the whole thing. it had a lot going on .... and plenty of zap.

Amy said...

I can only assume that Alderman was using hyperbole and satire as a warning, kind of like Alice in Wonderland or Animal Farm. I completely agree with pushing women in leadership roles. I found I had a lot of sympathy for both Roxy and Allie/Eve. The dialogue was great, and I liked the plot momentum.

thecuecard said...

Yeah I agree Amy: there's plenty of hyperbole & satire in this one. & Maybe that's some of the talent I found in it.

Catherine said...

The violence did get really hard to take by the end and left me thinking she was making more of a statement about how absolute power corrupts- regardless of gender. Also, as for women being more nurturing I felt as if she addressed that by having the novel span a huge amount of time (thousands of years?) so without the social and structural influences those might not be traits associated with women anymore.

No matter what, I thought it was a great book for the exact reason you gave- I was still thinking about it days later. It seems like it would be a good pick for a book club!

Why Read?

  "I was gradually getting used to feeling the range of available human emotions, their intensity, the rapidity with which they co...