The Power by Naomi Alderman

coverThe Power. Naomi Alderman. Copyright 2016. Penguin 2017.

I was well aware of this book before I started reading. When The Power won the Bailey’s Prize for 2017 Booktube seemed to be split on whether it deserved the winning spot or not. The main criticism I kept coming across was the language is too simple for this to win a major literary prize. I myself believe that this novel definitely deserved the win. It is one of the most exciting books I have read in a long time.

The Power starts with a simple yet catastrophic idea. What if young girls suddenly had a power that could inflict terrible pain? What if they could wake it up in older women?

At first we see the male characters see the power of the teenage girls and think how can I exploit this? For money or for violence but gradually gradually we see the power shift and at first I felt so excited watching it. Vindicated. We see that what we consider normal- women feeling unease and fear around huge groups of men, women being abused physically or sexually by men, women being casually humiliated or demeaned at work, at home, on the streets- all of this was suddenly shifting to the other side. Alderman doesn’t just stop there, however, and what was first thrilling turns ghastly.

The scope of this book is fascinating! As the power dynamics from places as diverse as the boardroom in New England, to the underbelly of London, to the kingdom of Saudi, to streets of Delhi start to shift. Alderman illustrates not just big changes but the small subtle ones too, like between two news anchors.

Well now, Kristen, if a power like this existed, maybe we bred it out deliberately, maybe we didn’t want it around. You’d tell me if you could do something like that, wouldn’t you, Kristen? Well, you know, Tom, maybe I’d want to keep a thing like that to myself. The news’ anchors eyes meet. Something unspoken passes between them. And now the weather on the ones.

The story switches from the Point of View of four main characters- a girl in England, a young man in Nigeria, a woman in New England and a girl who wants to set the world on fire. The language is simple but emotionally effective and the story is exciting and complex.

This isn’t just a look at a different world. Naomi is holding up a mirror to our world now. And what the mirror shows will horrify you.

 

 

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

20706317This is the kind of book you’ll stay up all night to read.

Harry August lies on his deathbed for the 11th time. A little girl calmly sits beside him and says “I nearly missed you Dr August. I need to send a message”

In the world North has created, a few people live their lives over and over again. They die and wake up as an infant back in the same exact time and place they were born. At the end of his eleventh life a little girl, who has also lived several lives, passes on an ominous message to Harry, a warning that has been passed down through generations of people like them.

I loved so many things about this book, the tightly woven plot, the ethics of messing with time and a deep and complicated friendship that transformed with each lifetime. And I loved the main character, Harry, who successfully carried the story with empathy and dry humour as he deals with living the same life over and over again:

Naturally my reaction to being born again precisely where I had begun – in the women’s restroom of Berwick-upon-Tweed station, on New Year’s Day 1919, with all the memories of my life that had gone before, induced its own rather clichéd madness in me.

Harry as a character grew on me with a slow burn until before I knew it, it was three in the morning and I was on tenterhooks for what he was going to do next. North expertly illustrates a man who is seemingly dispassionate about life and “linears” who live just once through it but we start to see that’s not quite true.  I already respected his cleverness, and North expertly illustrates how dynamic his mind is without outright telling us, but it was his reaction to the briefly mentioned character Rosemary Dawsett that was the turning point for me and made me Team Harry all the way. North writes scenes that are unsentimental and yet able to devastate you at the same time

 “Forgive me,” I wrote at the bottom. “I did not think I would break.”

Quantum Physics and Nuclear Power play significant parts in this novel and the last time I took any kind of science was at GCSE level. Despite this North writes in a way that made me feel I could understand it. She gave it context, made it exciting and this is an example of the great way fiction can bring an unfamiliar subject to life. I love fiction where I organically learn things while engaged in a great story and North delivers this with effortless skill.

This is an epic story of rivalry, of friendship, alternate timelines and the power of human discovery. It is definitely my favourite fiction book so far of 2016.