The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

I have so many feelings about this book. It was recommended to me by my friend Giselle and that alone has opened my eyes to how important it is to asks friends overseas for recommendations for local authors. My fellow British Louise started it in unison by accident and I’m sure she has her own stance on it. This may be a long one of I can’t contain myself.

I would probably describe this book in its simplest terms as small scale feminist dystopia. ‘Small scale’ only because we get a glimpse into the horror of the lives of ten women, but the social implications reach far further. These ten women wake up drugged and confused in a disused sheep shack in a huge cordoned off section of the Australian outback- surrounded by deadly electrified fence. The only other people around; brutal, weak Boncer; beautiful, pretentious Teddy and Nancy with her children’s costume nurses’ cap. Elsewhere, Hardings threaten to arrive any day.

Part of my feelings about this book stem from a conversation I had two days ago with my flatmate about Lord of the Flies. How the social makeup of that group of boys fuels and sculpts the story and how a different makeup would have skewed the narrative. The Natural Way of Things kind of answers that question, even accidentally. This group aren’t children, they’re shaped and moulded and socialised adult women in a deeply patriarchal society. Each a victim of, or willingly complicit in, a sex scandal, their internalised misogyny drives a lot of their interactions whilst the cruelty of Teddy and Boncer drives the remaining wedge between them. They’re pushed together, pitt against one another, pushed together again and arguably driven mad by the cruelty and the knowledge that society sees them, in their words, as damaged dogs and bitches. It’s reminiscent of a world where we vilify women who are involved in sex scandals, sexually abused of victims of sexual violence while the men get to continue with their lives. We vilify them and then forget them, except the named few who remain enshrined in public consciousness as people to be judged. It’s not a hard leap of imagination to believe that these forgotten women could be literally removed from society.

But there is nothing anti-women about this book. It almost reminds me of Mad Max: Fury Road; a story entirely revolving around women who are victims of sexual abuse without a single gratuitous rape scene or dwelling on violence against women for effect. No one can convince me that film was t brutal feminism at its best. Likewise, in The Natural Way of Things the girl’s stories remain their own and while we can piece together the events that led to each girl being tricked and signed away with a fake legal document they, not the violence against them, remain central to the story. The men do not get off lightly. Even the ‘nice’ ones are shown to be weak in crisis, changeable at a whim, they go from ‘poor sweetie’ to ‘stupid bitch’ in a way that every woman has seen in real life, but is rarely highlighted in media. The women, in contrast, grow weaker and then infinitely stronger. They do the labour and become entwined completely with the natural circle of life (honestly there’s an entire essay in the title of the book). Life is women’s work while the men look on and lose the control they haven’t earnt.

I joked on Twitter that this book should replace Lord of the Flies as a school text, but no joke comes out of a vacuum. I honestly see more value in studying this than a book about privileged white boys descending into chaos. Give me more stories of survivalism and strength of women (incidentally, I’m waiting on book post for Into the Forest. There may be a feminist theme to my reading for a while)


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