Book review

What would happen if women suddenly had all the power? This novel offers uncomfortable answers

Naomi Alderman’s ‘The Power’ is both science-fiction and real (and the winner of the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction).

“The shape of power”, it begins, “is always the same; it is the shape of a tree.” Naomi Alderman’s The Power is a book about a world order turned upside down overnight – women have suddenly gained a genetic advantage over men. It begins with teenage girls around the age of fifteen. They are able to create and wield lightning in their hands. Alderman introduces them to us as girls defending themselves against violence and violation. These girls don’t know what they’re inflicting on their tormentors till after the damage is done.

Slowly, the ability to create and weaponise bodily electricity spreads through womankind. Every female baby born to the new world has the power. It’s a crisis – or is it?

At first, the crisis appears to be containable. Babies are tested in hospitals. Female government employees are mandatorily tested to weed out those who have the power. Men cross the street when they see girls approaching. Boys and girls are sent to separate schools.

But as with all shifts of power, the new world is not contained by the old one for very long. Horrifying videos begin to emerge of girls electrifying each other, of sex slaves rising against the men and the institutions who have abused them. Alderman builds a world where I felt I was feeling my way around like in the dark. What I knew of hierarchy, of oppression, of danger and of survival was proven false. It took a few chapters for it to sink in that the world Alderman imagined was not going to be gentle.

Might power wield people instead?

What appears to have all the makings of a feminist utopia turns out to be an unflinching interrogation of power. The book has four central characters. Allie is a foster child who survives multiple foster families, each worse than the other, with the help of a voice in her head. Roxy is the daughter of a powerful British-Jewish gangster whose mother has been murdered because of a gang-related grudge. Allie and Roxy find themselves in a convent of nuns who are sheltering young women who are being persecuted for their new-found ability to wield lightning.

Allie transforms into Eve when the house discovers that she has a healing touch that temporarily takes away ailments. At the urging of the voice in her head, Eve leads a quiet, shocking reinterpretation of the Bible in this stunning exchange:

“Eve says, ‘Jesus is the son. But the son comes from the mother. Consider this: which is greater, god or the world?’

They say, for they have learned this already from the nuns, ‘God is greater, because god created the world.’

Eve says, ‘So the one who creates is greater than the thing created?’

They say, ‘It must be so.’

Then Eve says, ‘So which must be greater, the Mother or the Son?’”

With the help of Roxy, Eve builds a powerful Christian organisation funded by mafia money that subscribes to the idea of female supremacy.

Margot is a Mayor who is constantly belittled by the male Governor of her State. She has a fifteen-year-old daughter who has passed the power onto her. But this is not known to the world. She slowly rises through the political ranks.

Tunde, the sole man in the main cast of characters, is an enterprising Nigerian journalism student who travels around the world, visiting places like Saudi Arabia, Moldova, and Delhi, covering the growing revolution of women who want to take back a world that has been historically denied to them. The Power follows these four characters in a changing world. As their fortunes rise, it becomes clear that this alone will not insulate them from a violent takeover where neither the chosen nor the displaced will settle into the new order peacefully.

The more things change…

The first time I encountered Naomi Alderman was in a conservative Jewish neighbourhood in North London where her novel Disobedience is set. I was drawn in by her intricately detailed world and her keenly drawn characters – she could make me relate to deeply religious Jews. In The Power, she draws from the same, intuitive knowledge of people to create a disturbing book that has me questioning what I know of women and men.

As she wrote this book, Alderman was mentored by Margaret Atwood to whom the book is dedicated. Similar to her mentor’s dystopian masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale, this text doesn’t offer consolatory or definitive conclusions about gender. The Power is not an easy book to step away from.

When the violence and cruelty that populate our world are mirrored in a world turned on its head, it is unsettling to see how similar the two worlds are. Returning to the shape of power, Alderman says, “It is the shape that lightning forms when it strikes from heaven to earth.” The image of a world singed from its core to its branches is an apt depiction of the one Alderman has created.

Brilliant 2017 #BaileysPrize winner Naomi Alderman with a giant version of her winning book, The Power!

A post shared by Baileys Women's Prize (@baileysprize) on

This work of “feminist science fiction” has won the 2017 Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction, edging out novels like the immensely popular Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien. In a world where political futures are more unpredictable than ever before, Power is has you biting your lower lip as you ask yourself at what point the world we occupy goes beyond redemption and repair.

It isn’t surprising that that television rights for the book have already been sold and that five ten-episode seasons of Alderman’s intricately plotted world are being planned. One of the glaring absences is a deliberation on other determinants of power – race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, trans identities. Do men of colour suffer the same fate as their white counterparts? Are trans-people and inter-sex people treated more fairly? Do homosexuals have equal rights? Perhaps the TV series, which intends to expand on the ideas in the book, will address these issues.

The Power, Naomi Alderman, Penguin Books.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Hans Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.