Review: The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

Book cover with rusty chainsIt has been a while since I read a book as visceral and harrowing as this one. Relatively short at just over 200 pages, “Natural Way” is a powerful feminist allegory that gets up to speed quickly and does not relent.

Yolanda wakes up in a strange place, feeling drugged, and wearing odd rough clothing – the homespun cloth of a homesteader. Soon she notices a second girl in the room with her, in the same strange costume and looking as bewildered and frightened as Yolanda feels. Her name is Verla. When a man comes in with no information and leads Yolanda off for “admissions” she is thrown into a yard of even more confused young women. They are on an abandoned sheep farm in the dusty remote outback of Australia. They are about to be punished.

It doesn’t take long for the women to realize they know each other, at least from the media. They have all done something to publicly inconvenience men – politicians, football teams, television presenters, military leaders, gamers – either by giving or withholding their bodies. By not apologizing or demanding an apology.

Someone has given permission for them to be “disappeared” to this place, surrounded by a tall electrified fence. Two men, brutal Boncer and mellow but mean-spirited Teddy are their jailers, hired by an unknown entity to make sure the captives are taken down a peg through hard, pointless labor, meager food, loss of agency, loss of voice. Wood has created a fantastical possibility of “what comes next” after a mob pillorying on the internet. And what happens to this small society when it looks like no one is coming to relieve the jailers.

Many reviews have compared “The Natural Way of Things” to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” or “Lord of the Flies.” While it is a fellow traveler in some ways, this book has its own unique perspective on society and how women are shaped by it. Wood’s writing is elegant even when depicting harrowing, heartbreaking, and horrifying scenes. The reader has no omniscient perspective, living with the same ambiguity as the women up to the breathless end. A book you will ponder long after you finish.

Published June 28, 2016
Europa Editions, Inc.

Source: Public Library