Charlotte Wood’s fifth novel, The Natural Way Of Things hooks you in with a simple premise. A group of ten young women are imprisoned on a deserted farm in the Australian outback. They don’t know how they got there, all they know is that they were drugged and kidnapped beforehand. The story that unfolds is a complex and devastating one where you are compelled to keep reading in order to find out why this is so. The novel itself doesn’t offer up a whole lot of answers but it does succeed in asking lots of important questions.
The Natural Way of Things is Wood’s fifth novel. The Australian author has previously been nominated for various literary prizes and she’s also penned some non-fiction books. This latest work is a trully compelling read in that it is bound to create some visceral feelings in readers (who will want to share and discuss the book with other people). The content itself is quite provocative and it does deal with some confronting issues.
The story was inspired by a radio documentary that Wood had heard about the Hay Institution for Girls. This real-life “jail” saw women in the sixties and seventies locked up and in some cases it was only because they had spoken out about being assaulted or sexually abused. Like the real-life example, the thing that Wood’s characters have in common is that they were the victims in high-profile crimes (read: those covered by the media) involving men and sex. It’s sad because in the book this “future universe” actually mirrors the trial by media, victim shaming and judgment that occurs towards women that are unfortunate enough to have had these cruelties committed against them today.
The two central characters are the beautiful Yolanda who experienced a horrific gang rape and Verla, a strong woman who was the mistress of a high-profile politician. They are imprisoned by three awful guards including the sadistic and disgusting Boncer, the new-age stoner, Teddy and an un-hinged female “nurse”. At first the jail is brutal as the girls have their individuality stripped, they are subjected to hard labour and the punishments are delivered swiftly and often. But then a major turning point occurs when all of the individuals – including the inept guards – are left with no escape by the mysterious security company in charge.
The Natural Way Of Things has many contradictions but it all feels very real. Wood’s prose is quite pretty and lyrical (just like the book’s cover) and yet the content is very dark and terrifying. The novel poses lots of questions but the answers are not always forthcoming and the ending is rather unsatisfying. But in all, this is an important and raw look at misogyny, feminism and abuse and it is all presented in a gripping way. This intense novel is an exquisite book that would make a worthy literary prize winner as it is a modern classic that challenges the reader, slaps them out of their comfort zones and offers them with a bitter pill packaged as “food for thought”.
***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/natural-way-of-things/9529762