From the BLURB:
Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in a broken-down property in the middle of nowhere. Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls, forced to wear strange uniforms, their heads shaved, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a 'nurse'. The girls all have something in common, but what is it? What crime has brought them here from the city? Who is the mysterious security company responsible for this desolate place with its brutal rules, its total isolation from the contemporary world? Doing hard labour under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what links them: in each girl's past is a sexual scandal with a powerful man. They pray for rescue -- but when the food starts running out it becomes clear that the jailers have also become the jailed. The girls can only rescue themselves.
‘The Natural Way of Things’ is the new novel by Australian author, Charlotte Wood.
This is not an easy book to read. It is a dystopic horror story of literary fiction, evoking Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid's Tale’ with a nod to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’. Reading it, I even thought that a comic-equivalent (albeit, a science fiction one) would definitely be ‘Bitch Planet’ by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro.
‘The Natural Way of Things’ is the story of a desert compound, where a group of women find themselves imprisoned … it is only through the eyes of two of these women prisoners – Verla Learmont and Yolanda Kovacs – that their plight becomes clear. Yolanda and Verla recognise each other and their fellow inmates as headline women, those who have recently been made “famous” for various sex scandals that made the nightly news;
In the days to come she will learn what she is, what they all are. That they are the minister’s-little-travel-tramp and that Skype-slut and the yuck-ugly-dog from the cruise ship; they are the pigs-on-a-spit and big-red-box, moll-number-twelve and bogan-gold-digger-gangbang-slut. They are what happens when you don’t keep your fucking fat slag’s mouth shut.
That one paragraph had my synapses snapping, remembering all the various real-life cases that probably inspired such believable horror. ‘Big-red-box’ reminded me of that Liberal National Party that put our then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, on the menu. Allusions to a cruise ship assault? – there are too many in recent years to count, but the most recent just happened in June. ‘Pigs-on-the-spit’ reminded me of those horrendous ‘Roast Busters’ whose name was derived from the ‘spit roast’ sexual euphemism … and then I was reminded of all those other girls and women who are reduced to a headline. The ‘St Kilda Schoolgirl’? ‘Lewinsky Scandal’? Even the one word ‘Steubenville’ evokes one of America’s most sickening rape cases in recent years.
That’s what ‘The Natural Way of Things’ is about. If instead of those women and their various sex “scandals” merely making headlines, they were shuffled off to a compound-cage in the Australian desert somewhere, hidden from view so that those they’ve inconvenienced with their “scandals” can try and forget. Their heads are shaved, they’re chained to one another and made to submit through beatings and humiliation … slowly forgetting the women they were. And what makes this book so truly terrifying is just how easy it is to believe in the Dystopian patriarchy.
Earlier this year I read and loved 'Dietland' by Sarai Walker, a ‘Fight Club’ for women that sees vigilantism turning the tables on sexism in the modern-world. Coming off the back of that book, Charlotte Wood’s ‘The Natural Way of Things’ feels like a brilliant companion, with the two books at either end of the feminist spectrum. One fantasises about a female uprising, while the other envisions a patriarchal wasteland – but both raise important questions about the role of women in society, the commodity of their bodies and explores both literal and existential imprisonment of women.
I did love ‘The Natural Way of Things’. Charlotte Wood is one of my favourite authors, and in this book she’s tackling some of the most important and thought-provoking questions of our times – and though cloaked in beautiful prose, with glimpses of euphoric hope, and vividly drawn characters, there’s still horror to be read here. Indeed, I can only think to describe the book as heartbreaking and horrifying, but entirely vital reading. And it’s undoubtedly a favourite read of 2015 for me.