The Power, by Naomi Alderman

First book down of 2019. I was actually hoping to finish it on Dec 31, 2018, but wine and charcuterie took priority that night. No matter, it was a great way to kick off 2019.

The Power is one of those books that fogged my brain into its universe as I was reading it. You know, one of those books that rewires synapses so that your world is overlaid with the fictional world from which you have to tear yourself away to do non-fictional human things like buy groceries, shower, and answer (repeated) direct questions from your partner.

The basic premise is that women have developed a new power to generate and release electricity. A tingle across the skin for pleasure, or a bolt to the temples to kill. Women are suddenly and consistently more physically powerful than men, and the book traces how that plays out. It’s set mainly over a 10-years period leading up to the Cataclysm, and follows 4 main characters as they react to, and shape, this new world.

The language is sharp, the story moves along swiftly but not carelessly, and the main characters are so engagingly written that you root for all of them, all the way through the plot.

What elevates The¬†Power narratively is that the basic premise I mention above isn’t actually the book. The story I outline above is actually a manuscript of historical fiction written by a historian named Neil, who’s tired of the lack of audience for his serious books. He’s sent the manuscript to Naomi, his mentor, for advice, and it’s their letters that frame the story. She finds the male soldiers and gangs described in the old world preposterous, since men are clearly the softer and weaker sex. Women need to be strong to protect their children, so you see that’s only natural, and couldn’t possibly have been another way.

Without this framing, the book would have been an engrossing read; with it, the political commentary is amped up a couple more astute notches.

I loved this book without qualification. For the first half, I felt stronger than every man I saw on the street, and felt a glorious “YES! FUCK YOU!” pulsing in a cloud around me, instead of my general woman-walking-outside vigilance. As the book progressed, and the tide turns, that feeling wilted and rotted on the vine, and I felt slightly nauseous at seeing who I could easily have become. I think Alderman would be pleased.