The Power by Naomi Alderman
Warning: this text may contain spoilers
My main problem was this: if you imagine the male characters female and the females male, the story reads entirely the same, with most of the consequences of power being stereotypical, over simplified, bond-villain-style tropes of masculinity. The ending confirms the suspicion, that the premise of the book is this: power corrupts universally and simply. And for that, the book loses impact. I don't agree with the premise. People are complicated. Organizational power structures are not simple. The world is multivariate. Power is not one thing, and strength is only one variable in the equation.
Femininity and masculinity are substantial. They have weight and consistency and impact. And yes, men can be feminine and visa-versa., but the book claims power erases all and turns people into totally predictable animals. Gangs of raping women, stumbling drunkenly out of bars? Power crazed matriarchs ruling their countries into the ground infected by paranoia? These stories have already been told with men as the culprits, and yes, women are capable of the same atrocities, but this is no different than men, and so what's interesting about telling a story where they're women? The author is not introducing anything original with this break of expectation, and so the point of switching the sexes does nothing for me. Tell me the story of how femininity interacts with strength, and I'm interested. And that's, initially, what I was sold, but it's not what I received.
Also, imagine this: a football or baseball game. In the middle of the game, someone claims that the game is an illusion and the rules are all made up. Why don't both the teams decide to work together to hit balls? Or more malevolently, why don't they decide to burn the stadium down because all this energy spent running around bases is a slavery imposed by those commissioners organizing the whole thing from the top! To a degree, you can't argue because the game is known to be made up. But what's ignored is that it's still fulfilling to play the game, and there is profundity and skill in doing so. Emergent from this silly social invention comes quality, character, diligence, cooperation, development. And we can start to understand how these qualities emerge by studying the game, and then eventually we can cultivate its components elsewhere. And we can study how other games relate to the game we're playing, and see how they contrast and compare. We can see how certain ideas for games would be impossible or destructive to play.
But, if all we ever do is yell that the game is bullshit and should be torn down, we're left with nothing but needlessly razed earth from which nothing can grow.
This is what The Power claims. It says that power has infected and will continue to infect everything, so nothing is worth doing and all claims about the benevolence of structure are more than suspect, they're convicted a priori.