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Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Power (2016) by Naomi Alderman

Book Review
The Power (2016)
 by Naomi Alderman

   Naomi Alderman is an English author, and The Power was published in the UK in 2016.  In  the fall of 2017, The Power got a big United States release.  The Power is firmly in the wake of the smash hit TV version of A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.   Atwood and A Handmaid's Tale are splashed all over the marketing material, Alderman thanks Atwood in the afterword for being her inspiration and mentor.  Less acknowledged, but I think, equally influential is the very not-literary multiple-platform smash, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks.   The Power exists between those two extremes- a well regarded writer of literary fiction extending her gaze into the realm of speculative fiction (Atwood) and a hack with a good idea launching a multi-platform international intellectual property juggernaut (Brooks.)

   The fact that The Power even got the big American release is proof that this is a property destined for bigger things.  According to the still brief Wikipedia entry, the television rights have already been sold after an, "11 way auction."   Alderman adopts the "peak tv" technique of spreading her story out amongst a handful of lead character whose paths intersect and diverge. She includes a mock historical introduction that presents the main narrative of The Power as itself a work of speculative fiction written by a male scholar five thousand years down road, long after the events depicted in the novel.  Alderman also includes illustrations of "artifacts" that illustrate the central event of The Power:  Seemingly overnight, all women develop the ability to harness electricity using a new muscle/organ called "the skein." 

  What, Alderman asks, would happen next?  While there is simply no doubting that Alderman has a multi-national hit on her hands, I found the similarities between The Power and World War Z  telling.  Ultimately though, The Power lands on the literary fiction side of the sense.   She tells an R-rated story, no talking around the state of power relations between women and men in this book.   The picture she presents of the consequences of this evolutionary development is neither Utopian nor dystopian.  Her use of the framing narrative evokes both classic 19th century narrative but also the conventions of genre fiction in the 20th century.

  I think the best argument for reading The Power is that you are likely to hear about the television version in the future, so best to get ahead of the curve.


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