The author of The Power (Viking £12.99) is not only an award-winning young novelist, but the co-creator and lead writer of a smartphone audio adventure app. Which is where her accomplishments spin out of my ken, as I am not sure what this latter means. Particularly when it involves zombies.
Naomi Alderman is in many ways an avatar from a youthful world, here to explain and interpret the dynamics of internet entertainment, especially video games, of which she is a passionate advocate.
And she is quite suddenly ubiquitous. Although her slew of literary prizes (and a professorship of creative writing) clearly is impressive, it is her position as quasi-scientific tech writer that has really created the kind of fame which claims an hour on Radio 4 chatting to artist Grayson Perry and a role in a clutch of science media programmes. Naomi Alderman is, in short, the future — and the future is the central interest of this book.
The Power is a close relative of the game world — a dynamic, fast-moving, super–realistic, ultra-graphic work packed with appalling violence. Every page has some low-life getting his comeuppance in hideous sci-fi ways.
This is as a result of the world’s women realising that they possess a force to fell an enemy at several paces, then maim, torture or, quite often if it suits them, kill him. And it is him. This near-future dystopian nightmare proposes a righting of the wrongs between the sexes (often predictably and confusingly described as genders) the rough way. First manifest in a teenage girl whose criminal family is attacked, her mother gruesomely murdered, by a rival East End gang, the power passes from one girl to another and spreads across the world.
Women chained as enforced sex workers in Moldova are electrically empowered. And, when they eventually band together, they confront a hostile Saudi army on their borders in a kind of sex -based Armageddon.
I very much enjoyed the wham! bam! kerpow! of the Saudi-linked sequences. Their women were the first to rise up and feel the electricity within them and turn it, intriguingly, upon cars, which they melt for fun because they were forbidden to drive them in the pre-Power world.
The novel is eulogised by Margaret Atwood and given a lyrical, if vague, commendation by A L Kennedy. And indeed, Alderman displays an affecting sense of humour that strangely suffuses her book’s endless clashes and relentless electric-shock stand-offs.
However, having read Naomi Alderman’s publicist’s quotation of the book’s heroine in action on the front flyleaf — “She throws her head back and pushes her chest forward and lets go a huge blast right into the centre of his body” — this reviewer had a distinctly regressive time warp, back to Superwoman in her curvy Lycra uniform, chest to the fore, all guns blazing.
It was hard but enjoyable to recover for the rest of the book.
Anne Garvey is a freelance writer