The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood is her fifth novel and many claim this one to be her most daring. I agree.
The Natural Way of Things starts off with ten young women, imprisoned without being given a reason. Their clothes and possessions taken away and their heads shaved. Locked up in camp where they have to do hard labour. The women later find out the reason they have been taken to this place and that reason is exactly why this book is so chilling. I’ll let you go in to the book without further explanations, because that’s the best way to go into a read like this.
Just beware: it’s a disturbing tale.
One day read
This book could easily be an one-day read, at 330 pages you’re drawn into this book from the first sentence on and it’s hard to look away.
We follow the story through the eyes of our two protagonists; Yolanda and Verla. They are two women among those who have been abducted. Wood’s writing immediately takes you into their heads from the moment we meet them. We feel along with Verla’s desperation while she waits for her boyfriend to rescue her. We sympathise with Yolanda when she comes to the acts she has to do and undergo to stay alive.
Slowly but surely all the other girls get faces too. Wood gives every girl her own character, sometimes in full details like for Yolanda and Verla. But for some of the girls we get to known them on their coping tactics and it’s so haunting. One girl sees herself as the chef and is seen with a cooking pot all day long. Another girl caries a doll around with her.
“It is not yet dark enough to see the stars, but the girls look up for them nonetheless.”
I hate to use the word haunting again, but that’s exactly what this book is. It gets under your skin. It’s ugly but you can’t look away. While I was reading I kept being taken aback how graphic the book is. Wood has such a way of capturing such a raw situation for people to be in, while at the same time maintaining such a beautiful flair to her writing.
I’d like to add a little bonus point to Charlotte Wood for including a chapter about the girls and their periods. The focus on their lack of sanity products and how that makes them feel. It adds such a real element to this story and I adore a writer who gives attention to subjects usually ignored.
“The girls …who almost had it all.”
“The girls are all standing now, beating at the drum of their walls, beating out with boots and fists the month of grief and rage, each drumming for herself but most of all for Joy, until at least the song is ending and cell by cell the drumbeat eases and quietens and stops, until the only sound is Joy’s pure human voice: steady, rich and bitter. The voice of Joy, who almost had it all.”
There’s a scene where the woman are locked into their cells for the night. One of the women, Joy, is a singer and the others urge her to sing a song. They’ve done so before but Joy has not complied before. This night is different and with the others singing along she sings Rolling in the Deep by Adele.
I was chilled to the bone, the imagery behind this scene is stunning; the once-singer, the women coming together in the middle of the night – silence and desperation all around them – the modern song so far away from the place they are. Charlotte Wood knew what she was doing with every single word, every single sentence she put down in this book.
The Natural Way of Things is a feminist piece of work, showing the strengths of women while at the same time breaking them down. It’s a dystopian book, but at the same time so realistic.
It’s so good, you almost forget how disturbing it is.
Title: The Natural Way of Things
Author: Charlotte Wood
Publish date: October 1st, 2015
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Page Number: 313