It may not seem immediately clear how a fictitious novel about the emergence of a mysterious electrical power bestowed solely upon women could have relevance to our society in the twenty-first century, let alone a geography blog. However, Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power is far from insignificant and should not be dismissed as mere whimsical fiction. It has not only generated waves in the literary world, likened in many circles to Margaret Atwood’s enormously successful novel The Handmaiden’s Tale, but its relevance has further been acknowledged in wider academic fields too.
The concept of power and, more importantly, who has power is a central tenet of the novel. Additionally, the emphasis is placed on how this power is distributed in terms of gender as well as questioning and exposing how these norms are embedded within society and its customs. The novel extracts and interrogates the conventional relationships and differentials between the sexes by drastically disturbing the status quo of power and gender. Whilst it has been convincingly argued that gender is a social construct – a label rather than a physical difference – and although Alderman’s book hinges on such a physical difference determining who can successfully exercise and wield power, the fundamental principle of gendered power differentials is crucial.
Evidently, there is artistic license in how the novel is written. However, it forces one to entertain landscapes of gender relations that are unfamiliar in many societies in the twenty-first century – put more bluntly, it can be seen as another attempt to illuminate the inequities that have become so engrained that only through such an expose does society reflect on where it has got to.
The question of how power is exercised and developed has been extensively explored in recent decades in fields of social research – most extensively by Foucault. However, the extent to which such research has penetrated ordinary society is questionable – indeed whilst gender divides might make the news headlines in terms of pay gaps, for example, there is rarely fundamental questions raised about society on a holistic level.
What should perhaps be emphasised is not just the story and themes but also the importance of novels such as The Power as well as others such as the Handmaidens Tale (recently adapted for the small screen) in bringing to the attention of a wider audience a self-awareness of who holds power and how power operates within our societies. There is a plethora of academic research investigating such issues but much of this work is either impenetrable or too inaccessible for the average person to have access to or take the time to investigate. Whilst I have developed an interest in how power operates as well as access to all the resources I could possibly need to further these interests through my privileged position as a student, it is only through popular culture, especially novels, that many people are exposed to alternative landscapes and thus come to question our own functioning and ways of operating.
As such, although I feel that, despite being well-written, The Power is somewhat overrated as a fictional novel – based purely on my perhaps naïve judgement of fictional books as needing to have a good and fluid narrative which I personally felt it lacked at times (I’m not a book critic so take these words with a pinch of salt!) – it is still rightly acclaimed. The book is a ground-breaking work of fiction that should be lauded in order to give it the exposure that is necessary to disseminate its wider message which is, in my opinion, not just a critique of patriarchy but more subtly a critique of society and how it takes a complete reversal of the way things are to see that things can be different.