The Power by Naomi Alderman

Most of my comments about this book stem from a discussion we had in a book club meeting last week – something which I want to talk of in itself as it’s such a great experience, but will do that in it’s own post. One thing the group definitely helped with was developing my thoughts and feelings about this specific book, and hearing the varied responses from everyone.

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In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

The Power is a very, very interesting book to read. Looking at a reversal in the ‘power dynamic’ between genders, it explores what would happen if teenage girls everywhere woke up one day with immense physical power and how it would change our world. Overall, I gave this book 3.5 stars because, looking back, it is a very clever book and what the author was trying to achieve was indeed very good. It explored several various issues and topics and dealt with most of them well, but there are definitely some areas in which it lacks. This discussion I will keep as spoiler free as possible for those of you wishing to read it in the future.

First off, there are four main characters we follow: a man called Tunde from Nigeria who chooses a career in journalism to document the changes in the world, a foster girl called Allie whose religious parents abuse her, a local American politician who wishes to advance in her career, and a girl from London who belongs to a family on the wrong side of the law. We follow these characters and watch as each of them are changed and affected by this phenomenon. It turns out that, whilst initially being interested in all of them, I ended up only really caring about the narrative of one towards the end. Whilst it depends on what interests you, I personally struggled to keep interested in certain character plot developments.

The opening and first third of this book is brilliant, and I devoured it rather quickly. It’s dealt with very well, from initial reactions that really don’t surprise you (the overwhelming response from some of the male population to section off these girls from the rest of society) to the small details of how boys are told not to be out too late or go out on their own. This initial section is what I found really gripping, and it is very striking in how society is presented – mainly due to the fact that the usual, commonplace phrases that girls hear all the time are switched to boys.

Yet, I find that I kept thinking – in the narratives that followed – that this book would work far better as a collection of short stories. It felt like the author was taking on far too much, and it would be better to have more focused individual stories, as there are moments when some things are mentioned in passing to the point of being worryingly underdeveloped. A few of these instances was brought up in our discussion, and one that I want to mention is the discussion on sexuality – or lack of. There is a character within the novel whose power is noted to be ‘defective’, and it just so happens that she is also mentioned to be one of the few queer characters. It also just so happens that, for a time, she dates a boy who has a chromosome deformity, which grants him the use of this power. On top of that, they meet online in a group for delinquents and, in it’s name, it uses two derogatory words that were closely associated with the gay community. Unfortunately, comments on people’s sexuality are not developed, which leaves us with evidence for anti-LGBTQ thought. For the only character who is said to be specifically queer to be ‘defective’ and not develop that sentiment sets a very dangerous precedent, and one that we overall could not support without further knowledge of the author’s intentions.

Again, without spoilers, the ending of the novel was hit and miss with us all – the general consensus being one of bewilderment and confusion. The final pages demonstrate exactly what the author is trying to do, and her final lines are brilliant, and it was those final few pages that bumped up my rating as it is a very clever idea, but perhaps one that is just not executed as well as you might want it to be.

There are a few other downfalls of the book – plenty of stereotypes of classes and accents, not to mention a main character who is said to be Nigerian at one stage but then there is no other mention of his background or culture, like he is a completely blank slate before the novel begins, and it feels as if the author had checklist with ‘black character’ on it. Besides these details, which really only stand out when you finish the book and discuss it in full detail with others, this is a very interesting and important book to read. Whilst I’m sure the author was trying to write a sort of feminist dystopian, much like the Handmaid’s Tale, it doesn’t quite come up to the expectation I held. There is also a worrying notion that this book could be used to support the argument for and against feminism, which I am 99.9% sure was not the author’s intention.

So really I leave it up to you to decide whether or not this book is one that you like. Again, overall, I did enjoy this book and would encourage others to read it – one thing’s for sure: you’ll have something to say about it. Whilst my review doesn’t sound particularly enticing, I do stress that I did end up giving it 3.5 stars, 4 on Goodreads, and there are more than plenty of people who absolutely loved this book. As always, these opinions are my own and they by no means dictate what you will or will not feel – and I’d love to hear what you think about this striking Baileys Prize nominee.

Nod by Adrian Barnes

Several of my colleagues recommended this book to me, and it’s interesting description definitely held some appeal. I still feel slightly dazzled after reading it, still not knowing whether I loved it or thought it was good but not great or what. It confused the hell out of me – but one thing is for sure, it was very very well done with some very cleverly crafted moments.

Dawn breaks and no one in the world has slept the night before. Or almost no one. A few people, perhaps one in ten thousand, can still sleep, and they’ve all shared the same mysterious dream. A handful of silent children can still sleep as well, but what they’re dreaming remains a mystery. Global panic ensues. A medical fact: after six days of absolute sleep deprivation, psychosis sets in. After four weeks, the body dies. In the interim, a bizarre new world arises and swallows the old one whole. A world called Nod.

Paul, a writer of books of etymology, is the man we follow through this strange, practically apocalyptic world. It’s difficult to say much more about the plot, as giving anything away just ruins the actual reading of it, so instead I want to talk about what it was that makes part of me think of this book as just brilliant, and another part not so convinced.

I couldn’t keep focus throughout the whole novel, perhaps due to the fact that I read it in one day, but it couldn’t keep my attention for some reason. The setting, however, was brilliant done and such a clever idea – although I should warn you, don’t expect any explanations.

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What I think made me love this book were the observations. It’s littered with comments about the world, life, people and more. There were so many good commentaries, including poignant ones such as how we cry at single deaths as they feel more personal, yet we don’t cry at things like 200 dead from an EQ in the paper unless we know the area/people well.

Makes you think, at least.

So instead of me fumbling around to make this book sound better than I’m making it out, I’ve picked out two quotes that I liked so much I wrote them down.

“Hair and nails growing, skin slowly shedding. We were ridiculous factories, producing smells and oils and shit and piss. Better things went into us than ever came out.”

“There’s a point of obesity where, like it or not, whatever your other personal achievements or qualities, all you are is ‘The Fat Man’ or ‘The Fat Lady’. The world is a gawking four-year-old.”

What made me love this book even more, strangely enough, is the author’s personal story of discovering he has terminal cancer just as this book was being published. As soon as you read this book, I highly recommend reading that author’s note and the similarities and conclusions we draws between his own life and his book. Really, truly, incredible.

So I suppose all I can really say is that if you’re a fan of sci-fi-esque books, maybe even dystopians as this reads more like a prequel to a dystopian world, then you should really give it a try. If you read the blurb and like the sound of it, go for it. It’s not something I think I would have picked up had I not been intrigued by the blurb, but it seems people either love it or hate it or, the majority it seems, are on the fence like me.

Ready Player One

I’ve never considered myself ‘geeky’. The only video games I’ve ever played are Pokemon (I was a real poke-fan as a kid), Mario, various DS games (most about horses), and Sims. Again, I’m not really geeky in that sense.

But oh my goody gumdrops, did I feel geeky reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Packed with ’80s pop culture references and based around an online immersive video game, this book is something I never expected to love.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.

Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.

I actually first heard of this book via Youtube from a vlogger called Kristina Horner, whose videos I’ve watched for years. I decided to give this book a go even though I thought it wasn’t a book I’d particularly like, but oh man was I wrong. The world Cline creates just has these very imaginative pieces, my favourite being the concept he calls ‘The Stacks’ which is the future shanty town of caravans stacked up on top of one another. His writing style draws you into the story and the characters are just fantastic.

Wade, the protagonist, is a character I didn’t really want to like at times, but still rooted for all the way. You see him change so much through just a few pages, from a shy boy into something much more. His relationship with video games is something that I think will relate to people wordwide – even me, Miss Sims, found some of his mentality familiar. Except instead of throwing myself into a video game to hide from the world, I normally turn to books. #

I’ve been recommending this book to all my friends and family I’ve seen since I finished reading it – and, yes, I did finish it within 24 hours. Once you read through the first few chapters that set up the scene and you finally reach the action, things seem to take off at full speed.

Another thing that I loved about this book was that I couldn’t predict what was going to happen. Of course, you always think ‘oh, it’s going to work out in the end, surely’ but with this book you had no clue. Every moment you thought all was well, BAM, it changes. There are different plot twists thrown in, a few explosions here and there, and so many fantastic references that you can’t help but grin at when you understand them.

A book that you’d assume is just about a game, but so much more. It’s about our relationship with technology, and our dependency on it, as well as friendship and love – and where they fit in. Discussion of an online platform, worries about catfishing and other internet issues. It’s nostalgic, it’s geeky, it’s fun, and it’s exciting. If you want a guaranteed good read, then pick up Ready Player One.