Seam Editions


The Seam Editions editors reflect on works of creative-criticism.

The Power

The Power   by Naomi Alderman. A signed hardback with a small rip in the dustsheet, generously lent by a friend and not yet returned. Published in 2016 by Viking.

The Power by Naomi Alderman. A signed hardback with a small rip in the dustsheet, generously lent by a friend and not yet returned. Published in 2016 by Viking.


This book is important.
A divide that seems both obvious and immutable
turned precisely around with beauty, humour, intelligence,
making us think, we can do this,

This book shouldn’t be necessary.
Binaries are boring; reversing a shitty divide
doesn’t make it less shitty. We’re beyond that,
aren’t we? We can find a third way,

can’t we?

In this novel, the power is physically in
the women,

emanating outward like a tree, a lightning bolt;
and the book shows how it functions, how it starts
changing everything. Everything,

growing stronger, irrupting from their bodies;
it burns, boils, breaks, hurts the men,
turning them into victims, fearful, cowering,

until the women control the world.

In Moldova,

before it changed into something else,
women –

or what used to be Moldova
a man –

young, terrified, trembling and

malnourished –
are freed from a dirty prison, from slavery,
shown how to use their power, always latent in them,
by women who are
shocked, disgusted

beautiful –
is forced to lick shards of glass from the floor
by the new female president.
Tunde, the male journalist watching, is
humiliated, disgusted

and I, reading, I felt it too,

the joy of power: I could feel my small muscles,
tensing, pulling, wishing I could spark
just like the fictional women learn to spark; wishing, I guess, for
the power, the freedom,
to cause such pain.

but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be tricked by
my emotions, erasing the women’s real pain and
the fear which led to the book’s revolutionary reversal,
a simple, simplistic binary reversal
which is not enough

‘When he walked past a group of women on the road – laughing and joking and making arcs against the sky –
Tunde said to himself, I’m not here, I’m nothing, don’t notice me, you can’t see me, there’s nothing here to see.’ (p. 263)


      the power

the terror      

of walking alone

      protecting, saving

unprotected, unsafe 


      if we could feel it too

if they felt it too 


We can, can’t we, we can swap places
I mean,
have you thought about the evolutionary psychology of it?
Men have evolved to be strong worker homestead-keepers, to while women – with babies to protect from harm – have
had to become aggressive and violent. (p. 333)

The problem with power over others is that
it would always corrupt, no, it will surface a darkness which
we don’t want
we shouldn’t want

Can’t you see that
if we could claim the power instead,
could right all the wrongs
rebalance the injustices

which the world could do without.

Couldn’t we try another way?
Wouldn’t that be right?
Start again, start anew, not like
in The Power where the

We could kill, rape, pillage.
Wouldn’t that be fun?
They deserve it, after all, after all they’ve done to


decide to end all
the Cataclysm of total war

could be sexually powerful,
objectifying, belittling,

in the hopes of a better future, where women are in charge.
Where Neil Adam Armon of the Men Writers Association can send his historical fiction manuscript to Naomi Alderman, who calls him darling, and says,
have you considered publishing this book under a woman’s name? (p. 339)
She critiques his manuscript:

The male soldiers at the start of the book. I know you’re going to tell me that ancient excavations have found male warrior figures. But really, I suppose this is the crux of the matter for me. Are we sure those weren’t just isolated civilisations? One or two amongst millions? We were taught in school about women making men fight for entertainment – I think a lot of your readers will still have that in mind when you have those scenes where men are soldiers in India or Arabia. Or those feisty men trying to provoke a war! Or gangs of men locking up women for sex...some of us have had fantasies like that! (Can I confess, shall I confess, that while thinking about this, no, I can’t confess it.) It’s not just me, though, my dear. A whole battalion of men in army fatigues or police uniforms really does make most people think of some kind of sexual fetish, I’m afraid! [...]
      Surely it makes more sense that it was women who provoked the war. I feel instinctively – and I hope you do, too – that a world run by men would be more kind, more gentle, more loving and naturally nurturing. [...]The few partial patriarchies that have ever existed in human society have been very peaceful places. (pp. 332-3)

Yet, reading it again and more closely,
she’s going through the motions here, ticking off
the microhumiliations, sexualisation as a weapon
of disempowerment, the use of science, of history,

It’s funny, sure, it’s effective and apt and right and
it does its job extremely well.
Every typical ‘rational’ response to women’s rights
used to belittle and exclude under the guise

of fucking evolutionary psychology.

Tick, tick, tick.

Good job, Ms Alderman.

But still, this book really shouldn’t be necessary. We know about sexism. We know about rape culture. We know
about the pay gap, about FGM, about sex slaves, about women not being allowed to drive about dead uninvestigated prostitutes about the
domestic violence statistics about the fear
the fear the fear the fear we know we know we know we know

having have accepted this knowledge too easily,
this is why they fight, the women with the power,
in Riyadh in Delhi in Arizona in London in Moldova
in former Moldova, sex slavery capital of the world.
And that’s why they win.

Binaries are boring, and reversing a shitty divide
doesn’t make it less shitty. We’re better than that,
aren’t we? But
what if we ripped up the fabric of literature and life,
what if we could find another way,
a better way to weave stories and lives together in

when it happens to men we feel the shock of
this knowledge we thought we’d claimed, and
we abhor it and revile it, we’re morally outraged
because we think we could do better,
but it’s futile.

And that’s why we need this book. Because even if
(thinking we’re beyond such basic narrative tricks)
we feel we are clever and empowered, progressive,
we’re still part of the system, aren’t we,
the jobs and relationships and writing,
not caught in its net but part of it, imbricated in

the fabric of it all?

Don’t you think

that would be better

for everyone?

we could do better

for ourselves?

S H Binney