The premise of this book is simple: what if the gender roles were reversed? What if women were in power? The book explores the outcomes of such reversal of fortunes. It follows the four main characters, three of them female, one male, through the Cataclysm (a violent process of women taking over the control of the world and changing the course of human history on earth).
I struggled through this book. Firstly, because it is soaked in graphic scenes of rape, abuse, aggression and brutality. Though I was tempted to abandon the read, I persevered to the end. I was hoping that all those scenes served a greater purpose and that there was some sublime, underlying reason for them. I didn’t find it. The book starts with violence against woman and concludes with violence against men. And that’s the message: whoever is in power, will be corrupted by it and will use it to brutalise the weaker sex (whichever sex that may be).
And here lies my second reason for wanting to shelve this book: I wasn’t convinced by Alderman’s argument. Her message is too biblical for me, and way too simplistic: an eye for an eye philosophy of perpetual revenge. It is the Old Testament BC version of our world, and I don’t recognise it. We live in a better place than that world. We have evolved in the last 2000 years. That’s my opinion of course, and many will disagree based on what goes on around us today, but my reading of this book was coloured by my personal views. So I cringed and recoiled from the views advanced by Alderman.
However, I do not disrespect them. I think it is a brave book, a book that raises lots of inconvenient issues, and makes us reflect. And that’s what a good book should do.
Alderman’s prose is to the point, simple and effortless. She draws her characters with ease, and each of them is distinct. However, all female characters are driven by the same power-hunger. Once they realise they have the means to hold on it, their only purpose to subjugate men. Every other aspect of their personalities is flat and stereotypical: a politician clinging on to respectability, a foul-mouthed girl brought up on gang wars in East End and so on. I wish, the female characters were more complex and unpredictable. The characters in this book are linear and constant. Perhaps that was Alderman’s objective: to make them into ‘biblical’ icons/stereotypes rather than mere mortals. After all, the story is about ‘Cataclysm’ and there isn’t much room for intimacies and sublimity when the future of the world is in jeopardy.
Overall, the book has an immense value as a thought-provoking tool that can be dissected and debated well into the night, but it isn’t a story. It’s story-telling quality is somewhat compromised by the fact that the book is one sweeping ethical hypothesis. It is a sort of message in a bottle to the world at large. An individual reader fades into insignificance.