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Book Nook - 08-01-2018

Monday, January 08, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to

Zap-Happy Women
Naomi Alderman’s The Power made it to practically every list of the best books of 2017, and won the Baileys prize for women's fiction.

It is the kind of sci-fi novel, that, for a few pages at least, feels empowering to women. Alderman imagines a scenario when women get an electric change in their bodies, with which they can give men shocks—mild as well as heart-attack inducing lethal. When they discover this power, they become fearless; now they can walk the streets at any time, while boys and men cower at home in terror.

It starts with teenage girls, who can gift it to older women; then girl children are born with a ‘skein’ under their collarbones, and women become invincible—almost. 
There are revolutions in patriarchal societies from Riyadh to Delhi, and a religious movement inadvertently started, that feminizes faith by turning God into a She. The leader of this cult is Allie, who escapes an abusive adoptive father and lands up in a convent, full of battered girls who have discovered their power and come together under that generous roof to cope with their lives. Allie, who has conversations in her mind with a divine power, becomes Mother Eve, a spiritual healer and face of this new female supremacy.

Meanwhile, Roxy, daughter of a London gangster uses her power to take over her father’s criminal empire; Margot Cleary, Mayor of an American town fuels her political ambition; in Moldova, centre of the flesh trade, women under the leadership of Tatiana Moskalev, the wife of the suddenly-dead President, form a female-led country called Bessapara.  Recording these surges of female control all over the world, is self-taught Nigerian journalist, Tunde, the only male in this posse of women protagonists.

Alderman does not turn this new world into an Amazonian utopia; everything soon descends into chaos, the men start fighting back and women start behaving just like depraved and power-crazed men. In Moskalev’s dominion, men cannot step out without a female guardian, they cannot drive and cannot travel.  And of course, women who can’t or won’t use their power are given names like gimp, flick, flat battery, pzit (“the sound of a woman trying to make a spark and failing”).

The role-reversal book is structured like a thriller—it starts with a murder—and throws in thought-provoking questions into the nature of power; is it ever possible for those in a position of authority to use it for good? Or, to quote Lord Acton, absolute power corrupts absolutely. For no other reason except a whim, the story is bookended with correspondence between Neil Adam Armon the writer of this “historical novel,” about a period that came to be known as Cataclysm, and Naomi Alderman from whom he seeks approval of his manuscript.

The Power has many layers, but mainly debunks the idea that a world in which women rule would be enriched by love and kindness.  Alderman’s imagined dystopia is scary and without hope.

The Power
By Naomi Alderman
Publisher: Little Brown
Pages: 386


Excerpt of The Power
The men lock Roxy in the cupboard when they do it. What they don’t know is: she’s been locked in that cupboard before. When she’s naughty, her mum puts her there. Just for a few minutes. Till she calms down. Slowly, over the hours in there, she’s worked the lock loose with a fingernail or a paperclip in the screws. She could have taken that lock off any time she wanted. But she didn’t, because then her mum would have put a bolt on the outside. It’s enough for her to know, sitting in there in the dark, that if she really wanted to she could get out. The knowledge is as good as freedom.

So that’s why they think they’ve locked her in, safe and sound. But she still gets out. That’s how she sees it.

The men come at nine thirty in the evening. Roxy was supposed to have gone over to her cousins’ that night; it had been arranged for weeks, but she’d given her mum lip about not getting her the right tights from Primark, so her mum said, “You’re not going, you’re staying in.” Like Roxy cared about going to her poxy cousins’, anyway.

When the blokes kick in the door and see her there, sulking on the sofa next to her mum, one of them goes, “Fuck, the girl’s here.” There are two men, one taller with a face like a rat, the other shorter, square-jawed. She doesn’t know them.

The short one grabs her mum by the throat; the tall one chases Roxy through the kitchen. She’s almost out the back door when he grabs her thigh; she falls forward and he’s got her by the waist. She’s kicking and shouting, “Fuck off, let me go!” and when he puts a hand over her mouth she bites him so hard she tastes blood. He swears, but he doesn’t drop her. He carries her through the living room. The short one’s pushed her mum up against the fireplace. Roxy feels it start to build in her then, though she doesn’t know what it is. It’s just a feeling at her fingers’ ends, a prickle in her thumbs.

She starts screaming. Her mum’s going, “Don’t you hurt my Roxy, don’t you fucking hurt her, you don’t know what you’re into, this is gonna come down on you like fire, you’re gonna wish you was never born. Her dad’s Bernie Monke, for Christ’s sake.”

The short one laughs. “We’re here with a message for her dad, as it goes.”

The tall one bundles Roxy into the cupboard under the stairs so fast she doesn’t know it’s happening until the dark is around her, and the dusty-sweet smell of the hoover. Her mum starts screaming.

Roxy’s breathing fast. She’s frightened, but she’s got to get to her mum. She turns one of the screws on the lock with her fingernail. There’s one, two, three twists, and it’s out. A spark jumps between the metal of the screw and her hand. Static electricity. She’s feeling weird. Focused, like she can see with her eyes closed. Bottom screw, one, two, three twists. Her mum’s saying, “Please. Please don’t. Please. What is this? She’s just a kid. She’s just a child, for God’s sake.”

One of the men laughs low. “Didn’t look much like a kid to me.”

Her mum shrieks then; it sounds like metal in a bad engine.

Roxy tries to work out where the men are in the room. One’s with her mum. The other…she hears a sound to her left. Her plan is: she’ll come out low, get the tall one in the back of the knees, stomp his head, then it’s two against one. If they’ve got guns, they haven’t shown them. Roxy’s been in fights before. People say things about her. And her mum. And her dad.

One. Two. Three. Her mum screams again, and Roxy pulls the lock off the door and bashes it open as hard as she can.

She’s lucky. She’s caught the tall man from behind with the door. He stumbles, he topples, she grabs his right foot as it comes up, and he goes down hard on the carpet. There’s a crack, and he’s bleeding from the nose.

The short man has a knife pressed against her mum’s neck. The blade winks at her, silver and smiling.

Her mum’s eyes go wide. “Run, Roxy,” she says, not more than a whisper, but Roxy hears it like it was inside her head: “Run. Run.”

Roxy doesn’t run from fights at school. If you do that, they’ll never stop saying, “Your mum’s a slapper and your dad’s a crook. Watch out, Roxy’ll nick your book.” You’ve got to stomp them till they beg. You don’t run.

Something’s happening. The blood is pounding in her ears. A prickling feeling is spreading along her back, over her shoulders, along her collarbone. It’s saying: you can do it. It’s saying: you’re strong.


In this page-turner of a YA novel, The Treatment, C.L. Taylor writes about a reform school, where ‘troublesome’ teens are sent, to emerge well-behaved and vacant-eyed. Their parents are satisfied with their transformation, but is a society made up of obedient zombies ideal? Drew finds out that her brother Mason has been sent there, and sets out to rescue him. Says the synopsis, “All sixteen year old Drew Finch wants is to be left alone. She's not interested in spending time with her mum and stepdad and when her disruptive fifteen year old brother Mason is expelled from school for the third time and sent to a residential reform academy she's almost relieved.

“Everything changes when she's followed home from school by the mysterious Dr Cobey, who claims to have a message from Mason. There is something sinister about the ‘treatment' he is undergoing. The school is changing people.  Determined to help her brother, Drew must infiltrate the Academy and unearth its deepest, darkest secrets.  Before it's too late.”

The Treatment
By: C.L. Taylor
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 300

Sally Thorne’s romcom The Hating Game follows a familiar graph, but is full of charm and wit. A quick, feel-good read. According to the summary, “Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

“Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.”

The Hating Game
By Sally Thorne
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 363

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