The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read this for a book club, and usually I don’t read any blurbs on book club choices so that it is a fresh read. I have to say that was a good thing with this story. I found this story disturbing, horrific, and completely absorbing. I’m glad I hadn’t read anything about it as I would have been expecting the subject-matter.
The part that I found the scariest, was that we are never given the full story of any of the women in the compound – yet I knew every story of the women in the compound. I knew them all, because they are so common, portrayed exactly as suggested by the media – and worse, the comments about these women that are remembered in the story are all comments I have read, made about such circumstances, all the time.
This story isn’t a walk-in-the-park type of look at women caught in ‘sex-scandals’ – it’s a brutal and confronting, in-your-face look at slut-shaming.
Wrapped around that is an even deeper story, as we realise no-one is delivering food to the compound, and their guards are just as trapped as the women – it takes on an almost Lord of the Flies feel. Except instead of the study of a group of young boys and their social structuring, we instead are given the study of a group of women with two easily-overpowered men, who are stuck in socially constructed, gendered roles – and how much of that becomes instinct, survival or rebellion.
I couldn’t stop reading, and had no clue how it would end. The writing was as brutal as the subject matter, and I had some issue with pacing and descriptions in some areas.
Yolanda and Verla are the eyes of the novel, and their individual insights are fantastic but at times repetitive. The author did well to keep them separate characters, and did well in continuing the story despite the madness creeping into their characters.
It wasn’t a pretty novel, but it is one that I will think about for a long time. I was especially impressed about this being an Australian novel, and love that it came from here. Would highly recommend to anyone who enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.