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The Power (Review)

The cover attracted me as soon as we unpacked it, bright red with a hand-drawn black hand and silver vein-like tendrils tracing its outline. It seemed to embody Margaret Atwood’s declaration of “Electrifying!” and “Shocking!”

Shortlisted for the Bailey-Gifford Prize, the title refers to teenage girls suddenly finding themselves imbued with a strange electrical power they are unable to control that electrocutes those around them. The girls can awaken this power in older women, establishing the first hint of global sisterhood that other characters will eventually espouse. As each woman tests her limits they begin banding together, inciting mass rebellions in Riyadh and Delhi, breaking free from human trafficking and, in some cases, becoming rulers of entire countries, each woman fending for herself at times in extremely violent ways. The story follows four central characters: Allie, an abused foster child in America who reinvents herself as a religious figure named Mother Eve; Roxy, a powerful daughter of a London crime family; Margot, an ambitious American politician; and Tunde, a Nigerian journalist who was one of the first people to observe the power and made a name for himself as being one of the few men involved in these women-centric upheavals.

The world occupied by these characters is one that is incredibly similar to ours, the girls’ electrocution powers are at first the only difference present. However, as women worldwide begin to hone their skills, men become increasingly irate about the changing status quo, forming their own guerrilla groups aimed at protecting men from the tyranny of women (employing rhetoric not unlike the Men’s Rights Activists one finds on the internet today). A porn industry evolves around the use of the power while drugs are developed to enhance it. Men are advised not to wander alone at night or without a female guardian- a sentiment which evoked much schadenfreude as I read. To see real-life limitations on women turned on their head and applied to men underscores the ridiculous emphasis placed on what one must do to protect oneself from members of the opposite sex. As the book progresses men are deemed too emotional for their own good and unable to take care of themselves, and women begin to assert themselves as the ones to deal with directly.

A clever framing device in the novel shows the ‘present’ as an actual post-apocalyptic future where female superiority is unquestioned. A male author writing the story of Allie and company breaks the fourth wall to seek guidance from ‘Naomi Alderman’, his friend and celebrated author. Naomi guides him on how to make his book more palatable for what will be his predominantly female readership, supplying him with friendly advice that is again reminiscent of what women today hear.

Alderman’s work comprises of women from all walks of life, without coming across contrived. This is no small feat as the book subverts every conceivable gender norm, rewrites history, and reinvents the world as we know it in one of the most effortless ways I have seen in a while. The novel thus becomes historically and geographically global as the characters, fictional and real travel to countries, which are enchantingly depicted.

The Power is a roller coaster of a book. Some parts had me punching the air in triumph while at others my chest constricted so much that I was ready to yell at anyone who interrupted my reading. The last time this happened, I was eleven and Lyra was about to be severed from Pan in The Golden Compass.

This book bears the mark of all excellent speculative fiction by making you question everything about the world you live in, irrespective of your gender. Asking fundamental questions of what it means when a marginalized group is suddenly endowed with a mysterious power and what one would do in that situation, The Power is a book I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone looking for an excellent dystopia novel that shatters everything you think you know.

Rohama Malik

Rohama Malik

The Girls (Review)

The Girls by Emma Cline deviously bases itself on a set of murders that have defined the genre of true crime. The Manson family have occupied us with morbid fascination for up to five decades; every macabre detail has been combed over and repackaged for our ready consumption. But The Girls is not a story about the gore- although it does intersperse the novel out of necessity- it’s a story about the dichotomies that shook America through the murders. The pure evil that found space to blossom during the summer of love, the pretty young things capable of gruesome executions, the untouchable celebrities decimated at the hands of the ordinary, the young innocent minds willing to do the unthinkable.

The Girls is told from the perspective of young, neglected Evie whose angst ridden relationships with her divorced parents accompanied by a sense of adolescent isolation predisposes her to the young women in the novel’s Manson-esque cult.

Attracted to their sexual confidence, fifteen years old Evie strikes up a bond with Suzanna, and slowly begins to mimic her mannerism and dress. Eager for love, escape, and adventure Evie unquestioningly inhales, snorts and drinks her way to acceptance, willingly oblivious to the impending evil.

The Girls is ultimately a tender story of girlhood, how fragile yet clumsy attempts at adulthood are frustrated by boys, parents and men who fear or wish to possess a girl’s burgeoning sexuality. Evie battles the ennui of a middleclass existence through petty crimes committed against her neighbours, and other small infractions lead by Suzanna. Imbued with a sense of exceptionalism by cult leader Russell, Evie begins to overlook the violations to her being, attributing it to an education and the promise of a higher state.

In recognising the subtle manipulations of Evie and her crippling adolescent insecurity, it’s difficult for the reader to question her choices. Rather you find yourself empathising with her as you’re flooded with memories of your own adolescence. My heart ached as the child’s innocence was cruelly stripped away leaving a deeply troubled adult, incapable of believing in herself. Cline’s greatest achievement is how intricately she captured the human condition, leaving- as the blurbs suggest- many celebrated authors enthralled by her talent.

This is a beautiful, poignant novel that will not just transport you to California during the summer of love, but it will place you very firmly in the shoes of Evie for an exhilarating and intense experience you never thought you would understand.

Aysha Raja

Aysha Raja