Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things was a highly awarded novel in 2016. Winning the Stella Prize, it placed as a finalist in the Miles Franklin Literary Awards, as well as the 2016 Prime Ministers’ Literary Awards. I selected this Australian novel as my summer read after it caught me eye when I was perusing the award-winners in our 2016 in Review book lists.
The story is told from the alternating points of view of Verla and Yolanda. Two young women, with something secret in common – unknown, on first meeting, even to them. We meet the girls when they awake from a drugged sleep in a strange, small, tin shed in the middle of the Aussie scrub. They soon learn they are not alone. There are 8 other girls present, each in housed in their own “dogbox”, none knowing how they got there, why they’ve been taken or abandoned, or what’s going to happen to them. Their keepers immediately force them to shave their heads, wear strange, woollen dresses and heavy leather boots, and to perform back-breaking manual labour.
And from there, it steadily gets worse.
Woods’ writing is unapologetic in addressing themes of misogyny, victim blaming and body ownership. There are few soft-edges in her savage imagery, or the horror the girls endure. Though the story is often unsettling, The Natural Way of Things is a compelling read, that was easy to get through.
If you are after finite conclusions and absolute “how comes?”, you may find this novel frustrating. In spite of this, it is a story beautifully told, that will remain with you long after you’ve returned the book to the library shelves.