October 22, 2015 | RRP $29.99
It has taken me a week to write this review because this book, The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood, has held my mind hostage. Reading it was completely terrifying because it didn’t take much suspension of disbelief to think that this dystopian story could actually happen. In the real world. No kidding.
The writing is excellent and drew me quickly and deeply into not only the story but the survival mindset of the characters. We begin with Yolanda and Verla as each woman emerges from a drugged state in a strange place and attempts to figure out exactly what has happened. They are made to put on an old fashioned looking uniforms and their heads are shaved. In these opening moments the women believe they are alone, but they soon discover this is untrue.
‘I need to know where I am.’
The man stands there, tall and narrow, hand still on the doorknob, surprised. He says, in almost sympathy, ‘Oh, sweetie. You need to know what you are.’
Yolanda and Verla’s internal psychology and camaraderie with all its flaws is wonderfully portrayed. I particularly loved the transformation of Yolanda. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that the women have each been involved in a sex scandal with a powerful man. They are problems to be removed. But for how long? To what end?
Survival in their brutal and dehumanizing captivity becomes necessary when food runs out. The psychological element of the novel really kicks in, reminiscent of other classic novels like Lord of the Flies. What would you do? Who would you trust? What would have to happen to break you? Could you fight back? This is the genius of this novel.
Many have called this novel a spotlight on misogynist nature, but I think it is much more than that. The Natural Way of Things is a cautionary tale yet it is also part horror story, thriller, mystery. It’s raw and gritty and scarily plausible. Terrifyingly easy to imagine. Deep, layered, courageous. There are too many words that fit.
This book will take hold of you and give you a savage shake, a sneaky caress then a cruel slap. It will tie up your mind with inky, beautiful sentences and even when you free yourself from the tangle, you will still be marked forever.
Charlotte Wood is the author of five novels and editor of the Writer’s Room Interviews magazine. Her last novel Animal People, was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and her other books have been shortlisted for many prizes. She lives in Sydney.