The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood (2015)
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Read me if you…
- Love feminist fiction
- Enjoy a brutally emotional thriller
- Can be violently thrown out of your comfort zone
Would it be said that they were abandoned or taken, the way people said a girl was attacked, a woman was raped, this femaleness always at the centre, as if womanhood itself were the cause of these things? As if the girls somehow, through the natural way of things, did it to themselves. They lured abduction and abandonment to themselves, they marshalled themselves into this prison where they had made their beds, and now, once more, were lying in them.
The Natural Way of Things is hauntingly gripping. With a reminiscent hint of The Handmaid’s Tale (OK maybe more than a hint) and Orwell’s 1984, Charlotte Wood has readers hooked from the opening paragraph. You’re instantly thrown into chaos and confusion and it only gets darker as the storyline progresses.
Without giving too much away, the story follows 10 girls being held in Australia’s dusty and barren outback. Under the watchful eye of two male guards and one female “nurse” (a malicious younger girl with zero medical experience, pining for male attention), the threat of rape and violence is ever lurking beyond the next page. You follow two of the girls in more detail with flashbacks to their past, their relationships and how they got there. Critics have described this book as a ‘masterpiece of feminist horror’ and you can see why. Wood really goes to town on the patriarchal rule and entitlement.
Each of the girls is imprisoned for various sex scandals and this is the way to make them – literally – disappear. They all begin to find ways to survive the camp and the male power running it. Turning the girls into people they can’t recognise, the story sheds
The Natural Way of Things isn’t set in a dystopian future it’s set in a familiar timeframe so the reader can connect with these characters and their weaknesses. We’re all guilty of them, a superficial love for material possessions, a chance to throw someone else under the bus to save our own skin, a toxic relationship gone bad.
As an English reader, the setting of the Australian outback seems as harsh as their living conditions. It adds another level of emptiness and despair to this book – they may as well be held on desolate planet. This book is clever on so many levels; split into sections named after seasons, the book has to keep pushing through the pain, just as the world keeps moving outside – it has to inside the microcosm of the camp. It mirrors the horrors of life and death and quite literally, the natural way of things.
Overall, this book fits perfectly within the #MeToo generation of literature. It’s thrilling and relatable in a nightmarish kind of way. I couldn’t put this book down and will be recommending it to everyone and anyone. The only thing it leaves me questioning is how a male reader would receive the story and characters. Really interested to hear a review from a male perspective. If anyone is up for it, please get in touch.
Four stars, such moving story – go throw it into your shopping basket.
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