Winner of the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. A speculative fiction novel in which a genetic mutation causes girls across the world suddenly acquire the power to conduct electricity and thereby alter the world order.
Alderman has written our era’s Handmaid’s Tale, and, like Margaret Atwood’s classic, The Power is one of those essential feminist works that terrifies and illuminates, enrages and encourages ... Alderman’s greatest feat is keeping this premise from settling toward anything obvious as she considers how the world would adjust if women held the balance of energy and could discharge it at will ... That globe-spanning ambition could easily have dissipated the novel’s focus, but Alderman keeps her story grounded in the lives of four characters who are usually sympathetic, sometimes reprehensible ... In her acknowledgments, Alderman thanks Margaret Atwood, Karen Joy Fowler and Ursula Le Guin — possibly the most brilliant triumvirate of grandmothers any novel has ever had. That lineage shows in this endlessly surprising and provocative story that deconstructs not just the obvious expressions of sexism but the internal ribs of power that we have tolerated, honored and romanticized for centuries.
Through exaggeration and reversal, many books have set out to illuminate inequality or open up new vistas of possibility. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the status quo inverted to such devastating effect as in Naomi Alderman’s fourth novel ... The novel is constructed as a big, brash, page-turning, drug-running, globetrotting thriller....But it’s also endlessly nuanced and thought-provoking, combining elegantly efficient prose with beautiful meditations on the metaphysics of power, possibility and change ... One of the most impressive aspects of the book is how it uses a new schematics of sex and power to illuminate our reality ... Why do people abuse power? The novel can’t offer any answer beyond the one already found in our world: because they can. 'That is the only answer there ever is.' This is a bleak truth, but not a bleak book – it’s far too smart, readable and joyously achieved for that. The Power is an instant classic of speculative fiction.
The central premise...is so simple as to be electrifying. What if every woman were to suddenly develop the ability to emit electric shocks out of her hands, like an electric eel? ... while Alderman explores some of the complications of this development with a minor character who is intersex, at no point does she look at what it would mean for the trans community. It’s as though Alderman cannot imagine critiquing our current patriarchal system of gender without erasing trans people from the world, which is one of the fundamental failures of this novel. But in other aspects, Alderman’s worldbuilding is admirably comprehensive. She builds her narrative around four main characters, all of whom show us what the power looks like in action in different corners of the world ... much of the book’s force comes from the potency of its empowerment fantasy ... But The Power takes place in a world in which an imbalance of power means that power will be abused. And women are not immune to its seductions.