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Writing and design by Melissa Hill, graphic designer.

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

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…the way people said a girl was attacked, a woman was raped, this femaleness always at the centre, as if womanhood itself were the cause of these things? As if the girls somehow, through the natural way of things, did it to themselves.
— Charlotte Wood, "The Natural Way of Things"

Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things is a book that I found to be strangely cool and observing, searing and intimate, all at the same time. It begins mysteriously as we wake with the two main characters, both women, who find themselves emerging from a drugged sleep in a strange place. They soon realise that they are prisoners. We share in their confusion, fear, and longing for their normal lives as they struggle to comprehend the situation they have been placed in. This is not a dystopian fiction of the type that is trendy at the moment. There is no world-building, no chosen one, no saving the world. The glimpse we are given of this world is much smaller than that, and therefore more impenetrable, more enigmatic. We aren’t really sure what we are observing here. This strange place provides a disturbing backdrop for Wood’s allegorical tale of misogyny and abuse of power.

The Natural Way of Things is a compelling read. Thought-provoking and devastating in its despair and truth, it still contains moments of beauty as the characters come to terms with their identities and find their own paths to freedom.

The river is a wide rope of bronze silk twirling, and Verla hammocked inside it. She is a creature of the animals, of kangaroo and horse; she is a little brown trout very still in the water, then a twitch and it’s away, somewhere in that channel, scooped along by the river’s strong brown hand.

The language in this book is both blunt and beautiful, and quite confronting. Also confronting, are the actions of some of the characters, as they all struggle to deal with the bleakness of their situation in their own way. This includes denial, betrayal, and degradation. The women in this book are all in the same situation and they generally pull together, but they can also turn on each other. There are some great characters drawn here, with enough ambiguity that they can be unlikeable at one point and inviting your sympathy at another. I particularly enjoyed hating the character of Teddy, the beautiful sun-kissed, health nut Adonis, who is actually a massive knob.

This chilling observation of contemporary society is one that you won’t quickly forget.