“Despite the shaven skulls, one by one the girls’ faces clarify for an instant – and then merge…in the days to come she will learn what she is, what they all are.” –
– Charlotte Wood, The Natural Way of Things
Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of a desert in a story of two friends, sisterly love and courage – a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted.
Nearly twelve months ago, I wanted to read and review the 2016 Stella Prize longlist. Sadly, I am only getting around to it now, just days before the 2017 list will be announced – better late than never, right? I am going to attempt to read and review the list before the end of February… so here it goes!!
I am going to start with the 2016 winner, The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood. I read this book ages ago yet every time I sat down to write about it, I couldn’t seem to put any cohesive thoughts down. I am still quite divided about how I feel about it. I have heard and read many wonderful things; I don’t think I’ve met a person who hasn’t loved it. I can’t quite put my finger on why I don’t…
Two women wake up from a drug-induced stupor, finding themselves imprisoned on a run-down property in what the reader assumes is the remote Australian outback. Along with eight other girls, Yolanda and Verla are forced to wear a strange uniform, shave their heads and are subject to revolting and demeaning treatment from their incompetent and vicious jailers. After long days of hard labour the girls start to work out why they’re all there. When the supplies start to run out it becomes clear the jailers are also becoming the jailed, and that they’re merely (unwanted) puppets to something far more dangerous and sinister.
Wood has certainly presented her readers with a brutal story. Her Australian dystopia is harsh and unforgiving, exploring the misogyny and control females are subject to in a contemporary world. The Natural Way of Things provokes the reader; I feel like Wood is prodding us with a great, long stick. She highlights the ambiguity of power and morality when it comes to the relationships between men and women. The imprisoned women are humiliated and tortured for their so-called ‘bad behaviour’ only to be expected to behave in the very way that saw them condemned in the first place. There are parts of this book that will possibly make you very, uncomfortable – and hopefully angry too. None of the comments Wood makes about women are anything new; sadly, they’re things that we hear every day – the double standards, the righteousness and arrogance of those in power, and sick expectation of entitlement. They’re treated as animals – not that animals should ever be treated that way either – and as a consequence, they begin to behave that way. They’re all – the jailers included – savage and desperate. Allegiances are formed and an unspoken comradery develops between the girls; Wood’s depiction of transformation is an interesting one… are they simply reacting to the situation or are we as humans more innately attuned for survival?
I can see why this book won; Wood’s stark language is befitting of the landscape she writes about and the setting which she envisages. Frustratingly, the reader finishes the book with more questions than they have answers for and in my case, a need to stand on my soap box and give a voice to those who aren’t given one… but I digress. Despite my lack of connection with the story – I still can’t place why – it is a very relevant, powerful and extremely good book!
AUTHOR: Charlotte Wood
PUBLISHER: Allen and Unwin
PUB DATE: October 2015
Winner of the 2016 Stella Prize – http://thestellaprize.com.au/