My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really don’t even know where to begin with this book. This is not a book to be read, but rather, a book to be experienced – to be lived. This novel is powerful and raw. Not an enjoyable book by any means, but an important work of modern Australian literature.
I’m not going to provide a detailed plot summary as I think that some of the power of Wood’s work lies in the not knowing. Just as her two main characters Yolanda and Verla don’t know. The girls are taken and no one has any answers for them – why? where? when?
This book has been so highly acclaimed and rated by Australian authors and commentators, but it is deserving of such respect. Charlotte Wood has crafted an imaginative and gripping story, an investigation into modern misogyny and the control of corporations. Parallels have been drawn with The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies which are absolutely accurate. What happens when you take ten modern women with various indiscretions and put them in the middle of nowhere of Australia with no creature comforts to be completely controlled by two ruthless prison guards? The Natural Way of Things seems in no way natural, but yet completely, brutally real.
The book is drawn into seasons, with each chapter alternating perspective between Yolanda and Verla. Their mental states after months in isolation both begin to fracture and alienate the others. And if this book was poorly written it would be easy to dismiss this as fanciful or pretentious, but Wood has written with such a visceral finesse that it seems entirely honest and plausible. There are some scenes that will stay with me for a very long time, Wood has used such powerful imagery throughout that it almost seems like reliving my own memory.
This is the first of Charlotte Wood’s novels I have read (she has published five, many of which have been similarly acclaimed), but I will looking out for her work in future. She has become such an important voice in Australian literature, with not only elegant creative prose, but incorporating detailed allegories. I have not read a book that left such a lasting impression on me for quite some time.