This book caused quite a stir last year, it won Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2017 and I really like the cover, so when I was visiting Hatchards in January I finally bought it. Very often when a book causes so much noise and I get to it later I happen to be disappointed, that was not the case this time.
From the first page the book reads just great, it keeps a very good pace throughout and reads as if it is meant to become a movie one day (which would not be a bad thing). The premise is on one hand very simple, on the other it unlocks fascinating possibilities – what if one day women were physically stronger than men? It is a simple question, but one I never really seriously considered. Alderman in her book considers it from all angles, one may say that this is a feminist book, and in showing us how the culture often weakens us, it is. But the main question is to what extent the features associated with women (being nice, sensitive, avoiding aggression etc.) are really just a cultural construct that justifies and enforces our weaker position, to what extent those would still hold if the situation changed. What if we were physically stronger? Because we are weaker it is often thought that women are more noble, that they would never go for violent revenge, that if women ruled the world it would be a better place, but would it really?
About a third into the book I started realizing that this book is not about gender, it is about power (I know, it says it in the title, and yet it took time to sink in). Because what makes people behave in certain ways is not their gender or origin, it is very often the power or lack of it. If you have it you’ll do anything to keep it, if you don’t have it you’ll do anything to wrestle it from someone who does. In this case it’s women who got the power and men who suddenly have to defend themselves and try to reclaim what they see as rightfully theirs – the dominating position. As women get more and more powerful a few leading characters emerge, each of them is a stereotype, but slightly reversed, we have a saint leader, a politician, a drug dealer and to document all this a man who is a journalist. As the story progresses each of them has their ups and downs, each of them has to make morally questionable choices. Alderman focuses on her lead characters giving them space to develop, so we sympathize with them and we care about their choices, even when we disagree with them.
I have to admire what Alderman pulled off in this book, it reads like a fast paced action thriller, but it touches or important topics, she managed to combine great entertainment with an important statement for equality. She shows that as tempting as turning tables and revenge may be it is not a solution, the only solution is a constant effort to find balance, and this balance will always be very fragile, because at some level we all crave for power.
Have you read it? Did you like it? What were your thoughts?