The shape of power is always the same; it is the shape of a tree. Root to tip, central trunk branching and re-branching, spreading wider in ever-thinner, searching fingers. The shape of power is the outline of a living thing straining outward, sending its fine tendrils a little further, and a little further yet.
This same shape grows within us, our inward trees of nerves and blood vessels. The central trunk, the pathways dividing and re-dividing. The signals carried from our fingers’ ends to the spine to the brain. We are electrical. The power travels within us as it does in nature. My children, nothing has happened here that has not been in accordance to natural law.
As it is written: ‘she cuppeth the lightening in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.’
from the Book of Eve, 13-17
I love the premise of this novel, girls and women suddenly get ‘the power’ of electrocution. Alderman creates a world in which women have the physical power to defend themselves and then considers the ramifications this has for society and the position of men and women. This is a timely novel considering the #MeToo movement, but also such debates as the re-making of ‘Lord of the Flies’ with an all female cast. This decision sparked comments such as ‘girls would never be as savage as boys,’ ‘it won’t work with young girls, they are too organised and nice,’ a premise that Alderman touches on in her novel.
The chapters are split between Roxy: the fourteen year old daughter of a London mob-boss; Tunde: a twenty-one year handsome man finding his way in the new female-dominated world; Margot: a mother of two and emerging politician, and Allie: an abused American foster kid who reinvents herself as faith leader Mother Eve, and is seeking to build a community away from men.
The characters are different ages, in different parts of the world and have contrasting backgrounds, this allows for us to understand how each character experiences the shift of power, both personally and within society. What I really enjoyed was how Alderman employed a range of storytelling techniques to demonstrate the attitudes of society when faced with such a change. I particularly loved the inclusion of message boards, where men could vent their anger at female physical power. The novel is written in the future re-telling the journey of change, and is written by a man, in secret, because he is excluded from the public sphere. An idea reminiscent of the struggle of female authors.
This book reminded me of a Twitter thread that asked the question: ‘what would you do if men had a 9pm curfew?’ The responses were overwhelming and made me realise the things I do to keep myself safe, that I never even think about, they are simply ingrained. It broke my heart. Alderman’s novel is relevant, thoughtful and provocative, and makes you consider your own place in society.
At times this is an uncomfortable read and it truly makes you think about society and how it would be different. However, this is at no point glamorised; Alderman never shies away from the uncomfortable realities of society nor does she imply that women wouldn’t abuse their power either. Instead, this novel feels like history, as it is portrayed, warts and all.
This bold, provocative and brazen novel is one I cannot stop recommending. It is a book that is quickly turning into a classic and one that everyone must read.