Three weeks of giving up News and it felt like part of me was floating in one of those silent, dark, sensory deprivation tanks. I tried living without radio for the first time in my life and playing music instead. It was lovely having more music but I missed the spoken word. I got through a lot of audio books before noticing most of them were political, like Robert Harris’s ‘Imperium’ which is really just Roman News. I listened to some of Bernard Cornwall’s Uhtred saga (tenth century news) and Sharpe’s Triumph (eighteenth century news). Give up the news, and it looks like I still have an insatiable need for events-driven narrative with a lot of political fall-out.
The historical fictional news was enthralling but I was well tired of all the testosterone, so I bought The Power by Naomi Alderman a future fantasy sci-fi global Breaking News epic, and an electrifying read on many levels. This book is testosterone transfigured. Imagine if, women the world over discovered they had awakening in them this very day, an evolutionary adaptation that gave them a superior physical power to men. The ability to give a controlled electric shock. You can flick a tickle of tiny lightning at a man’s most intimate parts and give nothing but pure consenting pleasure or, if you want to, you can fry him to death. To some women in the novel this is a long-overdue, divinely-given power conferring on them the religious moral duty to rule and be right. And the Divine Being is female, obviously. The Holy Mother is the popular divinity with subsidiary icon of the Sacred Son in Agony.
For the less spiritually-inclined, the arrival of an electrifying personal power is a chance to grab the world by the balls and take it, brutishly, for everything its got. Simple as that. A classic imbalance-of-power play by a high-voltage, high status woman with a personal army of girl gangsters. So you think you’re Big, Brother? Wanna lighten up, Dude? or What was once yours, Mr Jones, is now mine, and cast your eyes down submissively when I’m talking to you and dress modestly and cover your body, unless I want it… and actually… hey, have him stripped and washed and brought to my evil super-villain’s lair so I can administer an electric shock up the arse which never fails to produce an erection.
However, most girls in this novel are not that kind of girl. For the majority of female humans, the dawn of power simply means it’s the girls’ turn.
Beginning with ‘The Day of the Girls’, the ecstatic global liberation and furious meting out of justice and revenge, this book is a wild read. And it takes a wild read like this to make you see just how normal and habitual and internalised is the oppression of the physically weaker sex. It’s normalised because of millennia of rule by the physically stronger sex.
As the initial chaos subsides and (dis)order by powerful gangs begins, the novel is a blood-curdling study of the cynical use of power to exploit and terrorise. Wars between rival factions escalate and we realise that we’re reading a historical document dated post-apocalypse, thousands of years in the future.
Thousands of years of female-dominated world history are encapsulated in an email exchange between a woman and a man living in a female-centric society which is a mirror image of the male-centric society we have in our real world today. It’s social dark matter, this novel.
Throughout the book, we’ve had advance warning of this future-present by means of chapter headings with archaeologists’ notes describing artefacts from an older, less enlightened era when it was thought men were just lazy and stupid, and mostly extraneous to requirements, so male infanticide was common, and so were eunuchs. Nowadays, we’re told, barbaric practices continue in some parts of the world but in our country we have a law against that sort of thing. Nowadays, men can and do work in all walks of life. They might think twice about going out on their own at night because there are unfortunately, still some opportunistic women around, predatory women ready to take advantage. Once shocked, twice shy. Nevertheless, men’s emancipation has been rapid in recent years. Men are now free to lead the kind of lives their fathers and grandfathers could only dream of.
At the ending of the book is correspondence between a wryly amused female publisher (whose name is an anagram of Naomi Alderman) and an earnest young male writer who has had the temerity to imagine a fantasy world where men are in charge and there’s a lot of action-adventure-thriller-car-chase stuff. The publisher’s condescension is smartly done but it’s her parting shot, the last line of the novel, that really hits the spot.
The Power is well worth a read but it got so dark in its depiction of human motivations that I began to miss the relatively light touch of the modern news cycle.
After three weeks, I lifted my total news blackout but I haven’t gone back to news as I used to know it which was mainly via a screen. The happy medium, I’ve discovered, is radio. Radio, with the pips on the hour and then the news, briefly, after the pips. And all the non-news between the pips. Audio is the Answer. If the Day of the Girls dawns, I’ll hear about it.