When I first started reading ‘The Power’, this year’s Baileys Prize Winner, I wasn’t convinced. The premise was amazing but the writing style didn’t grab me. I felt like it only skimmed the surfaces of each character in order to focus on the plot. But the more I read, the more I felt like that didn’t really matter. The plot was good enough.
What this book does wonderfully is expose just how ridiculously cruel gender bias is. This book is being sold as dystopia, but as far as I’m concerned (powers aside) it’s a fairly accurate depiction of modern life; the only difference is the pronouns have been swapped round. Instead of it being women who fear rape it is men. Instead of women being too afraid to walk the streets at night it is the men who finally realise that ‘the night was filled with monsters’. To a male audience I’m sure this will be a shocking revelation, but for women the night has always been populated with fiends.
It’s new to Tunde that ‘dread stalks him on quiet streets’ but not to us. To us this is simply reality. Written from the perspective of a man though and suddenly it sounds barbaric, reminiscent of books set in wars where the enemy lurks at every corner.
What is impressive about this book is how distinctly Alderman turns the tide. ‘The Power’ not only shines a spotlight on just how gender imbalance affects women’s lives, but unlike most post-feminist fiction, it also subverts the power structures of our society. It holds up a mirror and reflects the unfair and often unsafe world women live in.
It would be tempting to write a book that shows how a matriarchy would be much less violent than a patriarchy but instead Alderman has women raping men, killing them in cold blood, murdering each other in contest for power and not even showing mercy when it is children in the firing line. This book shows how it is literally just ‘power’ that got men where they are today. Pure, physical strength. They are no better than us, no worse. They just have power. And if there’s anything we can learn from this page-turner, it’s that power corrupts.