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The Natural Way of Things

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Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of a desert. Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls, forced to wear strange uniforms, their heads shaved, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a 'nurse'.

Doing hard labour under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what links them: in each girl's past is a sexual scandal with a powerful man. They pray for rescue - but when the food starts running out it becomes clear that the jailers have also become the jailed. The girls can only rescue themselves.

320 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 2015

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About the author

Charlotte Wood

101 books524 followers
The Australian newspaper has described Charlotte Wood as "one of our most original and provocative writers.”

She is the author of five novels and a book of non-fiction. Her latest novel, The Natural Way of Things, won the 2016 Indie Book of the Year and Indie Fiction Book of the Year prizes, was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, and longlisted for the Miles Franklin. It will be published in the UK and North America in 2016. Charlotte was also editor of the short story anthology Brothers and Sisters, and for three years edited The Writer's Room Interviews magazine. Her work has been shortlisted for various prizes including the Christina Stead, Kibble and Miles Franklin Awards. ​Two novels — The Children and The Natural Way of Things — have been optioned for feature films.

Photo: Wendy McDougall

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Profile Image for Shannon .
1,221 reviews2,161 followers
January 24, 2016
Charlotte Wood's fifth novel is a disturbing yet beautiful and thought-provoking exploration into the misogyny lurking beneath Australia's good-natured, laid-back, egalitarian image. It is inspired, in part, by the Hay Institution for Girls, "an offshoot of Parramatta Girls Home that was reserved for the 10 worst offenders in the state in the 1960s and '70s. They were drugged and put on a train to the decommissioned men's prison in south-western NSW, where they were forced to march, look at the floor, never talk to each other, and endure rape and other violence." (Susan Wyndham, SMH) It is also inspired, or influenced, by the reaction to sex scandals over the years - far from being seen as victims, or equally responsible, the women in these scandals are vilified and denigrated - and hated.

In such ways do incredible true stories and a confronting dystopian fiction come together. In Wood's alternate present day setting, ten girls are drugged and taken to a remote sheep station, long abandoned and falling into ruin, in outback Australia (the state isn't clear but it would be either Victoria or NSW, most likely). They wake groggy and fearful, without their clothes or possessions, wearing old-fashioned clothes to which a leash can be attached and locked. Their heads are shaved, they're served small portions of the least nutritious food you can think of - Kraft-style Mac and Cheese, two-minute noodles, no fruit or veg - and bullied and beaten by the two men hired to guard them. Boncer and Teddy - and a young woman of dubious background herself, Nancy, who dresses up as a nurse with paper costume pieces and plastic toy stethoscope - are their guards. Surrounded by a high electrified fence, they are all locked in, trapped, but for the ten young women their lesson is to learn what they are, not who; and for the men, it is to teach them this.

This nightmare situation (as a female reader, I couldn't help but feel vulnerable, even threatened) is vividly rendered in Wood's delicate, descriptive prose and made all the more frightening by the idea, lurking beneath the surreal every-day existence depicted, that this plan wasn't even thought through all that well; or that, if it was carefully planned, it was planned by a truly cruel, evil fuck who has no regard for human life, health or sanity. It is the not-knowing, the ambiguity, the lack of information and facts that add to the tension and terror for the reader. Trying to imagine adults sitting down and planning this, justifying it, and then seeing it through makes my brain want to shut down. And yet, as evidenced by the real-life inspiration from the Hay Institution for Girls, it is entirely possible, today as well. It comes down to attitudes, to ideological mind-sets, to what a collective group of people believe is true and right. That's how we justify all manner of things, from bombing foreign towns to imprisoning Aboriginal peoples for minor infractions. Wood's ultimate triumph, in terms of ideas, is to remind us mutable our ideologies really are, and how, for as much as we like to think we are advanced, civilised, better than before, we actually have an awful long way to go. The reason, the ultimate reason why The Natural Way of Things is so disturbing and terrifying, is that there is a part of me that gets it, that understands that there is only a thin membrane of love, compassion and strength keeping women safe in this and many other Western countries.

I hear accounts of people claiming that feminism is no longer needed, isn't necessary, isn't important - that plenty of women not only don't consider themselves feminists, but have come to believe some strange version of reality in which feminism is a negative thing, a repressive or virulent, angry and hateful thing. What could be more successful to the largely-unconscious patriarchal agenda than this re-writing of feminism? Whoever owns the definition of a word, owns the word, and sadly, these days, women no longer own their own word. "Women are their own worst enemy" is a common enough saying - I say it myself - and I believe it is often, sadly, true. We constantly sabotage our own efforts at being - not just taken seriously, but treated equally.

This is captured in rather pessimistic ways by Wood's characters, from the two main female narrators - Verla, in first-person present-tense, and Yolanda, in third-person past tense - to the other eight girls unjustly imprisoned with them. Verla was involved in an affair with a politician and still, naively, believes that Andrew will come and rescue her, that she's different from the others, whom she judges almost as harshly as everyone else has done. Yolanda is the most clued-in, but she is also the only one who wasn't tricked into signing her rights away. She knew something was up, and she fought. They overwhelmed her and drugged her anyway, and she knows no one is coming for them because even her beloved brother was in on it. The other young women, all involved in various different kinds of scandals for which they took all the hate, represent different kinds of women, but none of them are particularly flattering. Barbs, the swimmer, is a big girl who suffers such a violent beating on their first day for speaking out that her jaw is permanently crooked, is obviously the butch one. Three of the girls become obsessed with their body hair, tweezing them out of each other's bodies, trying to maintain a look that they have long been trained to want. Hetty, "the cardinal's girl" (and doesn't that just make you cringe?) is depicted as small-minded and somewhat malicious. The list goes on, none of it flattering.

Yet such is the way Woods has crafted this novel that you come away with a clearer understanding: we're all flawed, none of us are perfect, we all make mistakes, and while you might not want someone like Hetty as a friend, or even value her as you would Verla, does she deserve this? Hopefully, the answer for all readers is a resounding NO! And as much as I'd like to think, "Oh this could never happen", a part of me doesn't really believe that.

I read this - in a day - just as the Briggs scandal broke, and the cricket player Chris Gayle got in trouble for his comments to a female sports reporter. An Age article brought attention to how the woman at the receiving end of Briggs' unwanted attention was being turned into the scapegoat rather than the victim, while following the Gayle story showed how quickly most of the country went from "His comments to a professional journalist were a swift means of reducing her from a serious journalist to an object for the male gaze" to "this is a complete over-reaction, lighten up, his comments were meant innocently, the political correctness police are going too far". That reporter understands her male-dominated world and distanced herself from it all, saving her job and her reputation, while the public servant in the Briggs' case was close to experiencing complete demolition because she made a complaint. It's telling. There is also the on-going discussions of the high rate of domestic violence in Australia, which is a huge problem and caused by, among other things, this over-arching lack of respect for women.

But none of this would be as memorable and hard-hitting if it weren't for Wood's writing. While I thought her control wasn't consistent and I found the use of present tense annoying and pointless for Verla's narration, overall it is beautifully and poetically written. Something incredible is done to violence when written in such simple yet beautiful language as this:

One big girl, fair-skinned with fleshy cheeks and wide, swimmer's shoulders, said irritably, 'What? We can't hear you,' and then closed her eyes against the sun, hands on her hips, murmuring something beneath her breath. So she didn't see the man's swift, balletic leap - impossibly pretty and light across the gravel - and a leather-covered baton in his hand coming whack over the side of her jaw. They all cried out with her as she fell, shrieking in pain. Some of their arms came out to try to catch her. They cowered. More than one began crying as they hurried then, into a line. [p.24]

The contrast of Boncer's 'swift, balletic leap - impossibly pretty' with the violent beating of Barb increases the shock value, the sense of wrongness and the realisation of powerlessness. Violence against women (such as domestic violence) has long proved an effective tool in the hands of misogynistic men.

At other times, especially after the power goes out (except for the electric fence) and they run out of food, and begin going crazy in their own separate ways, Wood's prose captures a primordial truth as well as day-to-day reality:

Yolanda hugged the squishy mint-green and baby-pink packages to her chest, squatting in the grief and shame of how reduced she was by such ordinary things. It was why they were here, she understood now. For the hatred of what came out of you, what you contained. What you were capable of. She understood because she shared it, this dull fear and hatred of her body. It had bloomed inside her all her life, purged but regrowing, unstoppable, every month: this dark weed and the understanding that she was meat, was born to make meat. [p.122]

It is a theme I've been interested in for some time now, this idea of shame and women's bodies, of the successful rewriting and control of women's bodies by, really, the Catholic Church and then, really, everyone. I'm very much of the mind that women need to reclaim their bodies, their right to their bodies but also how they value them and their needs and desires. I'm resistant to Yolanda's view, but I can understand it. And in many cultures around the world, past and present, women are controlled through the social traditions dictating behaviour and menstruation. As if, by teaching girls and women to see themselves in this low way, they remove the power that females rightfully possess, out of the age-old fear of woman's ability to create life. And as is often the way in literature, where this discourse of womanhood and power appear, so too does a representation of the landscape, the natural world:

When she wakes, her face printed with grass blades, she finds her way to a hillside of scrub. She walks in it like a dream, climbing the slope in the noisy silence. Silty leaves cling to the soles of her feet. There is the patter of wet droplets falling from the gently moving leaves far above. High squeaks and tin musical turnings of tiny birds. Sometimes a hard rapid whirr, a sprung diving board, and a large dove explodes from a vine and vanishes. A motorised insect drones by her ear. She looks upwards, upwards, and sees long shreds of bark, or abandoned human skins, hanging in the branches. The bush breathes her in. It inhales her. She is mesmerised by pairs of seed pods nestled at the base of a grass tree: hot orange, bevelled, testicular. [p.135]

A dichotomy of human-made vs. nature is a common-enough theme, but here rendered all the more turbulent and visceral by the circumstances, the very premise of the story. Even the title, The Natural Way of Things, speaks of this idea. It can refer to our determination to claim, possess and control - through language more than anything else - the natural world, which is also representative of womanhood (Mother Earth etc.), and also to a primordial, primitive and thus 'natural' way of life, an absence of so-called civilisation - relevant to Yolanda's increasing strangeness as she becomes one with the land, and Verla's ultimate decision. It speaks to the sadness I was left with at the end, which presents a kind of either/or scenario: either you live in the 'civilised' world and let it dictate who and what you are, or you shun it entirely, abandon it and become 'primitive'. Again, this is how we often grasp the world, and attempt to tame it: through words, and the positive or negative connotations of words. The ambiguous ending, with its taint of further horror balanced by a thin brush of hope, makes it clear who has really won in this world, which is really our world in disguise.

Make sure, when you start this book, that you have nothing planned for the day, because you'll want to read it all the way through in one sitting - and should. This is a book I will enjoy re-reading, and pondering anew. It has so far been nominated and longlisted for a couple of awards, and I hope to see it appear on more lists this year. It is a deserving book, working on multiple levels and one of those lovely rare treasures that can be interpreted and experienced in different ways by different readers, making it rich and unique. Comparisons have been made (in the blurb) to The Handmaid's Tale and Lord of the Flies, but 'comparison' is the wrong word for it: it is more that The Natural Way of Things has joined an on-going exploration into human behaviour, the powerful dominance of ideologies and their effect on both individuals and culture, and violence.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,219 reviews2,051 followers
May 16, 2017
I am on the fence about this book. On the plus side it is well written and I felt compelled to keep reading through to the end. On the minus side though the plot was totally unrealistic and the ending was awful. I have never liked books which do not tell me what happens next - I am the reader not the author so my job is to listen, the author's is to tell. I felt the author let me down on this one.
As for the plot, I felt pretty sure a large group of women in this situation would not have behaved as they do in this book. Some of them at least would have formed a bond and would have taken action.
Anyway I read it all, apart from skimming some of the really gross parts, and decided it was okay but it would not be winning any prizes from me.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,004 reviews36k followers
February 10, 2017
Wow!!! Brave....THOUGHT PROVOKING.....an 'unbelievable/unforgettable' reading experience!

Yolanda wakes up in an empty room with no memory of how she got there. Verla, a
young woman who seems familiar, sits nearby.

The girls are sedated and disoriented. They are in a stark compound deep in the Australian Outback....in the middle of nowhere without cell phones or computers. There is however an electrified fence around the entire borders of this horrific compound.

Other captives -girls - are down the hallway - just coming in....10 girls total who have been kidnapped. Each have been marked by her own public sex scandal and, as a result, is now the ward of an outlandish system of corporate control.

"Vera listens hard again. It now seems listening might be her only hope. She hears the creak somewhere of a door, a bird's cheering. There will be a car engine, a plane,
a train, something to locate them. There will be footsteps, talking, the presence of people in other rooms. She stares out the window at the weatherboards. There is nothing. The motor jerks -- it is a fringe -- and it clicks off".
"Now there is no sound at all but the girls slow, solid breathing. She has moved to sit,
on one of the chairs. She sits with her legs apart, her forehead in her hands, elbows on her knees. Her black hair a curtain, reaching almost to the floor".
"Minutes pass, or hours".
"At last the other girl speaks, her voice thick and throaty. Have you got a cigarette".

Vera and Yolanda are dressed in strange prairie puppet's clothes. They hear men's voices beyond the door in the hallway.
Their heads will be completely shaved.
All ten girls will be forced to march (right - left - right - left) ... literally chained and linked together while walking around the compound.

Eventually Vera and Yolanda form an alliance with enough power to bring down the entire system. We will root for them....but we are left with questions.

I thought the beginning of this novel was 'exceptionally strong'....with no - nonsense writing.
Author Charlotte Wood writes very straightforward/ direct....( which I like).....
but somewhere in the middle of this novel I wished I knew 'more' about the backgrounds of the girls.....especially Vera and Yolanda. We never 'really' know 'why them' ... and why they were 'chosen'. ( for lack of a better word).
We get 'hints' that by simply having a beautiful female body, it was a crime in itself.
Were the girls brought to the compound to be brutally treated- punished -for having been considered beautiful?

"There were no mirrors here. Strange, but she could almost forget her body, that marvelous thing. She used to stand before the mirror, wondering at it. It was something, all right. Must be, to cause such a fuss. She would stand there staring at it. trying to understand, to see it as they saw it."

"So now she lay on the bed and waited, which was kind of funny because doing that was what had started all this. But nothing could be more different, because here was the rasping nightgown even in the heat, the vast empty land outside coming alive and nobody caring where she was, even her troublesome body forgotten except for this: to March, to feel pain, to hunger and thirst, to eat and to sleep, to piss and shit and bleed."

This book won the 2016 Indi Book of the Year. It 'is' extraordinary...but we are left with questions. I suppose this is done on purpose.

Courageous beautiful writing.

The ending is a combination of happy and haunting.

Profile Image for Trudie.
526 reviews560 followers
July 22, 2016
Well, if ever there was a book you should not judge by it's rather beautiful cover it is this one. This book was a relentless, visceral slog. Certainly, as others have said it sits somewhere in the realm of a dystopian Atwood and a female Lord of the Flies. I don't think it is anywhere near as good as either of those books, but obviously I would have settled for much less. This novel however just confused me, bludgeoning me with grim imagery and a sort of overbearing theme of misogyny. I read blithely on misguided in the expectation that I would come to understand these woman and their back story. That there would be some reader payoff for all the rabbit skinning, mysterious animal appearances, bodily odours and grime that is pretty much the bulk of the novel. Oh well, not the book for me, but many reviews on here see something in this that I can't grasp and that really is the joy of reading and discussing books.
Profile Image for Allyce Cameron.
374 reviews20 followers
September 30, 2015
What did I just read?!

That was the first thing that popped into my head as I turned the final page and placed the book onto my bedside table.

Ok, so it's undeniably well written. Descriptive but still really down to earth and relatively easy to read. On the surface it's about a group of women who wake up in the middle of the outback after a "sexual scandal" with a powerful man and are being held captive. Now, when I read the back I was under the impression that they were mistresses who had been outed and were now in disgrace or something like that. And for one of the women that's true. Most of the others have been sexually harrassed, raped or otherwise abused and need to be gotten rid of. So I was getting really angry reading it. Which was probably exactly the point. I loved that one chapter that talked about "the natural way of things", I thought it was really clever and made you think.

I also felt like I never really connected to the two main characters and I couldn't really relate to what was happening. And the whole rabbit/nature thing went way over my head. I get that she's not the same person as she was before and it's about her freedom but if there was meant to be a deeper meaning I didn't get it.

And then the way it ended or rather didn't. Very frustrating. The main feeling that I got was just what the hell.
Profile Image for Roger Brunyate.
946 reviews637 followers
May 23, 2017
Oh My Gosh!

Did I enjoy this book? No, no way. It was horrible, excruciating, delving deep into degradation, then digging still deeper. But did I admire it? Oh my gosh, yes! From beginning to end, it had an inescapable fascination, beginning as a mystery, then moving into a nightmare where humans become as animals, then wresting strength from the depths and rising to moments of sheer magnificence. I still don't understand it, but know I have never read anything quite like it. Even though I already have a sui generis shelf, this almost demands a new one, all on its own. And without doubt it goes straight onto my Top Ten of 2016.

Two young women, Velna and Yolanda, wake up from a drugged sleep to find they are on an abandoned sheep station somewhere in the Australian desert. They are taken away, shaved bald, dressed in strange uniforms, then linked in a chain gang with ten other women for a forced march to the perimeter of the property, which is surrounded by an electrified steel fence. They are given sludge to eat, made of dried instant food made into a paste with water. At night, they are locked into animal pens. There are only two guards, Boncer and Teddy, who spend their time talking about what they would do to women and women have done to them. For it soon becomes clear that the one thing connecting all these prisoners is that they were each involved in some sex scandal which made the national media. As we gradually hear more of their various back-stories (though never in full), it also becomes clear that the women themselves bear very little of the blame. But that does not stop them being branded as sluts and slags and sent to this penal colony out of some Australian Kafka. Though the questions remain of who condemned them, who sent them here, and whether they will ever be released.
What would people in their old lives be saying about these girls? Would they be called missing? Would some documentary program on TV that nobody watched, or one of those thin newspaper nobody read, somehow connect their cases. find the thread to make them a story? The Lost Girls, they could be called. Would it be said, they 'disappeared,' 'were lost'? Would it be said they were abandoned or taken, the way people said a girl was attacked, a woman was raped, this femaleness always at the center, 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.
This is a book that could only be written by a woman, because no man would dare. These are women, defiled because they are women, constantly brought up against the animal quality of their womanly nature. It becomes a profoundly feminist book in an unlikely way, by first embracing the utmost degradation in order to push through to the other side. These are women caged like animals, hardly able to wash themselves or their clothes, let alone manage their special needs. I am quoting the passage below rather than some more gentle one because I want readers to know the extremes of what they are getting into, yet I am doing so as a spoiler so you can leave it to your own imagination if you prefer; it is very intense:
It is hard to imagine a writer, male or female, going further or hammering her points with such horrifying skill. This is probably the most extreme such passage, though far from the only one. But Wood is capable of transcendence also, perhaps because it is viewed from such depths. Here is Velna, some months later, running away from Boncer, knowing that he means to kill her:
It is not Boncer. The thrashing has stopped; she can see nothing in the silence. Then there it is: the stark, dark narrow face. A kangaroo, straightening itself, growing taller. It watches her, small black paws held delicately before it. They watch each other. Then she sees the other little malleted dark faces: three, six, ten of them—all stopped, all watching her as she slowly perceives their presence. She takes a breath, very still—and then they tilt forwards and make to leap. But then more noise, and more, and all the vegetation thrashes in syncopation; all the bush leaps into shocking life, and she stands motionless, captured, as the blurring streamers of twenty, sixty, a hundred animals overtake her, hurling past. Unseeing, unstoppable, magnificent.
Is this reality, or delirium? One of the most amazing things about Charlotte Wood is that she never lets up, refuses to take the easy way out. You may read in the cover praise that Yolanda and Velna form a bond that somehow rises above these conditions and ultimately defeats them. This is true in a way; they each help the other discover unseen strengths in their womanhood that could not have come except through suffering. But they do this in very different ways that pull them apart as much as together, and make any happy-ending reabsorption into society less and less likely. And when the happy ending—or something very like it—does finally arrive, Wood has a further twist or two up her sleeve that left me uncertain whether to scream or cheer, sure only that I had come to the end of something utterly extraordinary.
Profile Image for Brenda.
4,096 reviews2,663 followers
October 24, 2015
Nineteen year old Yolanda Kovacs woke to uncertainty and strangeness. Dressed in an old fashioned and scratchy nightgown - unable to remember how she got wherever she was; why she was there and who had put her there. In another room Verla had also woken; confused, disorientated, drugged – she sat on a chair and waited. When Yolanda was brought to Verla’s room, their thoughts consumed them but they didn’t speak; when the door opened and the man said “Who wants to go first?” their fear was palpable.

Far out in the stark and lonely desert in the middle of Australia was a vast property; but this wasn’t a property bustling with sheep or cattle – it had been abandoned; surrounded by a high electric fence, the buildings in the centre were run-down and desolate. Here, Yolanda, Verla and eight other girls were imprisoned; their guards, two men who were cruel and vicious, and who took great delight in beating them, plus a woman who called herself the nurse.

Shaved completely bald and dressed in filthy uniforms, the young women were chained together and marched to where they had to go – fed slops and made to work from dawn to dusk. They were locked in their rooms each night and the threats from their jailers meant they were terrified, fearful for their lives. But as the days turned into weeks and the relentless heat caused sunburn and more, they struggled to discover the reasons for their incarceration. Yolanda and Verla formed an alliance; the other women formed small groups – and gradually things changed…

Slowly the food began to run out – the jailers were becoming nervous. What was happening? Had they all, including their guards, been abandoned? Could Yolanda devise a plan? What would happen to these poor victimised women whom it appeared no one was looking for?

Wow! What an amazing book! The Natural Way of Things by Aussie author Charlotte Wood has blown me away! I struggled with this review as I feel it’s hard to do justice to the author’s writing; I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished, and I would have to say it is definitely one of my favourites for the year. Intense, imaginative and utterly extraordinary The Natural Way of Things is profound and unputdownable. I have no hesitation in recommending it extremely highly to all.

With thanks to The Reading Room and Allen & Unwin for my copy to read and review.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
July 24, 2017
I have decidedly mixed feelings about this book. I think it was a mistake to sell it as a dystopian fantasy - there is nothing in it that requires any imaginative leaps, but instead we have a moving and well written story set in what is almost the real modern Australia.

The plot centres on two young women Yolanda and Verla, who wake up from a drug-induced sleep in a bleak prison camp in rural Australia where their heads are shaved, they are forced to wear bonnets that restrict their vision and uncomfortable old fashioned clothes, while being locked into converted dog kennels at night. It soon emerges that what links them and their fellow captives is that they have all spoken about their sexual relations with rich and famous men. The guards are the brutal but weak Boncer, the apparently hippie-ish but self-serving Teddy and "nurse" Nancy who appears to have no medical knowledge.

The book gets more interesting when it becomes clear that the guards have also been deceived, food and power supplies run out and they only survive because the resourceful Yolanda discovers how to use some abandoned rabbit traps to hunt for food. Yolanda becomes increasingly wild, and Verla gradually loses her conviction that her politician lover will rescue her.

While the relentlessly bleak storyline makes this a difficult read, I thought it worked very well, and it is not difficult to imagine this kind of thing happening in a world so driven by hate-fuelled populism.
Profile Image for Suz.
1,096 reviews565 followers
May 30, 2017
I owned this book but ended up giving it to a friend as a gift before I read it. I kept seeing the book on the shelf at work, in fact it's a reserve item, therefore necessary reading for a course. I need to look more into this as I am very curious as to what it is being taught for and why. A student that I see all the time recommended it to me, so when he returned the item I loaned it to myself then and there.

I have never read this author before. The blurb states a friendship as being an integral part of the storyline. I didn't find this to be the case to me. It was an odd, dystopian like story that was just strange.

Mysogony was the word here, and the actions of the women involved didn't ring true. I'm not sure if they'd had acted as I would have. It was a strange one, with no real resolution. It is realistically a 2.5 star read for me.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,167 reviews1,641 followers
September 13, 2016
Wow! Allow me a minute to decompress after one of the most harrowing and visceral reading I’ve experienced in a long time. Think: Lord of the Flies. Think: A Handmaid’s Tale. And then ratchet up the horror by a few degrees.

At the start of the novel, we become aware that 10 young women have been drugged and abducted to a desolate Australian outback, contained within a 30-foot electric fence and supervised by two brutal male guards. What do they have in common? It doesn’t take them long to figure it out: each of them has been involved in a sex scandal with a powerful man. They are “the minister’s little travel-tramp and that-Skype slut and the yuck-ugly-dog from the cruise ship…and the bogan-gold-digger-gangbang slut.”

Yet two of the women stand out from the pack: the ravishing Yolanda who possesses stores of strength and the insightful Verla, the one-time lover of a married politico who can’t help but feel she is there by a gross mistake. The author differentiates them while tying them into the rest of the captives.

Charlotte Wood writes, “There was no self inside that thing they pawed and thrust and butted at, only fleecy punishable flesh.” Their “crimes” are only hinted at; the author trusts us to fill in the blanks. Here they are degraded, reduced to their animal selves, forced to become feral in order to survive. They are forced to adhere to the natural order of things: the belief that they “did it to themselves, they marshaled themselves into this prison, where they had made their beds, and now, once more, were lying in them.”

This is a book about many things: contemporary misogyny, sisterly courage, the interweaving of humans and nature, the cruelty that is masked by our civilized veneers. It is brilliant, stark, gripping and brutal. It is also unforgettable and it will definitely make my “Best of 2016” list.

Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,432 reviews813 followers
September 22, 2020
It’s 5-star writing but I disliked the story too much to rate it any higher. In fact, I ended up skimming the last part of the book because I didn’t care what further atrocities befell the women, whether or not they 'deserved' it.

Young women wake up in a desert compound, apparently recovering from being drugged. All appear to have had some notoriety or fame because of affairs or loose behaviour, and they’re now being punished and treated like prisoners.

They wake up alone, terrified, and are collected and sent into a room where a guy who seems stoned is cutting their hair. Eventually, he gives up on the blunt scissors and tries an electric razor. We see much of the story through Verla’s eyes.

“She looked down at the floor. Hair was only hair, as it fell. But there was so much of it, first in long shining straps, then little glossy black humps so the floorboards were covered in small dark creatures, waiting to be brought to life there on the ground.”

She’s got no idea what’s going on.

“Finally, some instinct rises. She runs her tongue over her teeth, furred like her mind. She hears her own thick voice deep inside her ears when she says, ‘I need to know where I am.’

The man stands there, tall and narrow, hand still on the doorknob, surprised. He says, almost in sympathy, ‘Oh, sweetie. You need to know what you are.’

That is as close as we ever get to a kind word from the two men who are guarding and beating them. It just gets worse—they lug huge concrete blocks, possibly to make a road, and eat rotten food and spoiled milk.

Miserable. Well-written but miserable. I’ve seen comparisons with Lord of the Flies , but this doesn’t seem to be the same kind of parable about humans being reduced to savage behaviour in trying circumstances.

I would love to read something else by the author because she's such a wonderful writer, but not this.
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,042 reviews903 followers
August 16, 2017
This novel has been lauded left, right and centre, so I felt a bit of pressure to go ga-ga over it.

But I can't and I won't.

It was far from terrible, but as far as I am concerned it didn't blow my mind away, and worst of all, it didn't touch me on an emotional level, and I have a big problem with this, especially when it's supposed to be a dystopian novel, with misogynism at its core. I consider myself a staunch feminist, so I am perplexed by my apathy, especially given how easily I get fired up. Yes, this novel was brutal, horrific things happen to these ten young women, who are clueless as to why they're imprisoned on a secluded, derelict property somewhere in the Australian desert/bush.

Besides the fact that I never cared for any characters, there were way too many questions left unanswered, and I do not like that! Maybe if the novel were set in a completely dystopian time, I would have had fewer issues with this book. But with the exception of the lawlessness of the women being imprisoned and their mistreatment, everything else was contemporary and known to me - therefore it was more difficult to suspend my disbelief and just go with it. In some ways, this book reminded me of A Little Life, which was filled with torture and misery. Of course, this was nowhere near as gratuitously sadistic, but because of the many questions left unanswered, I couldn't help but think that Wood tried to dazzle us with some shocking imagery without putting together a cohesive, credible story.

This novel goes towards Aussie Author Challenge on Booklover Book Review. http://bookloverbookreviews.com/readi...
Profile Image for Emily B.
426 reviews418 followers
June 22, 2022
3.5 rounded down

I felt the first half was strong and then my interest sort of tailed off at the end. Due to the nature of the story, there were some hard-to-read parts e.g. violence and animal suffering.
I like more of an explanation when reading novels like this, although I can understand why they are not always given.
Profile Image for Britta Böhler.
Author 9 books1,864 followers
August 31, 2016
I wonder why this book wasn't on the Manbooker longlist this year. Too angry maybe? Because it is an angry book. And political.
The anger and the politics are wrapped skillfully in a dark and often confrontational tale, a parable really, about how we perceive and mistreat female victims of sexual harrassment or sexual scandals, in particular if the men involved hold positions of power, politically or economically. And with "we" I mean men and women, because the ten women in the book - who are kept prisoner after having been abducted and shipped off to a remote compound in the Australian outback - show that misogynistic power play does not only dictate male behaviour but that it also affects how women see themselves and other women. One might disagree with the author's view on the redemptive force of nature but even for those readers the book is a powerful and beautifully written story that shows how difficult it is to free ourselves from pre-existing views and prejudices, even in dire and life threatening circumstances.
Profile Image for Kathy.
616 reviews24 followers
December 2, 2015
I’m feeling bad that I cannot give this book a higher rating but I really did not connect with it at all. Great literary writing but not my idea of a good read. The strength of the women was all I really got from it……and I just feel confused. It’s harrowing, brutal and that’s about it……sorry I cannot give it more.
Profile Image for Vivian.
238 reviews257 followers
May 28, 2017
1/11/2016: Lol changed my mind, bumping it down to 1.5

Super disappointed.
Sped through the first 100 or so pages and was super intrigued by the premise but then nothing was happening?!? I was just sitting there waiting for something, anything to happen but nothing did. I don't mind books that are slow but I need to care about the characters at least and I didn't in this case. The writing was also more on the overly descriptive side and thats just not my cup of tea. I found myself having no motivation to pick this book up at all which explains why I ended up taking a looooooooong break from this. The book was already so unsatisfying and to add on an unsatisfying, ambiguous and very abrupt ending as well?!?!? Just no! It was just an all round frustrating read - there were so many questions but no answers at all.

In terms of the Feminist themes and the commentary/ metaphor on slut shaming and modern day misogyny - I just couldn't really buy into it, particularly the supposed dystopian elements. I didn't really understand the point the author was trying to make?! So I looked into a few positive reviews and saw that it was based on something that actually happened in the 60s/70s in Australia but why did I have to search for other sources to understand this book at all? I could have just read articles about those events.

All in all, a very underwhelming read but it wasn't the worst book in the world, hence the two star rating.
Profile Image for Michael Robotham.
Author 68 books5,673 followers
June 4, 2016
This award-winning, dystopian tale, has some wonderfully descriptive writing, but left me wanting so much more. I found elements quite repetitive and ultimately too many questions left unanswered. I love challenging books that require the reader to fill in the blanks, but this can go too far. In particular, I wanted to learn more about the back story of the 'fallen' women in the story. I wanted to read more of how their lives were destroyed by misogyny and the media. I wanted to get angry.
The ending is haunting, but I will probably spend years trying to work out what it meant.
Profile Image for Repellent Boy.
488 reviews505 followers
August 9, 2019
Me ha costado la vida leer este libro, y no me ha gustado en absoluto. Es curioso, porque no paraba de leer buenas reseñas y lo cogí con muchas ganas y no he entendido nada.
La historia va a comenzar con dos chicas que despiertan en diferentes habitaciones de una especie de casa abandonada. Poco tiempo después serán reunidas con un grupo mayor de mujeres. En total 12 mujeres. Todas secuestradas por dos hombres, a la espera de que llegue alguien, no sé sabe con que fin. Están encerradas en una gran parcela de bosque, dentro de una antigua perrera. Y con vallas electrificadas en las partes altas de los muros que las encierran.

El caso es que me ha parecido un sinsentido absoluto. De entrada las 12 mujeres no se defienden contra dos hombres y una mujer que los ayuda. Aunque agresivo solo sea uno, y se turnen para vigilarlas. Es como que aceptan de buen agrado y rápidamente la situación. Para colmo, se ponen a tratarse mal entre ellas. Lejos de empatizar por su situación común, se tratan fatal. De hecho, entre ellas tienen conversaciones despectivas unas contra otras, pero oye, comentan lo bueno que está uno de los secuestradores y que se acostarían con él. ¿En serio? Te secuestran, tratas mal a tus compañeras en desgracia y hablas de los atributos físicos de tu secuestrador. No comprendo.

Además, ni siquiera expresan, la mayoría, odio hacia el secuestrador principal, inicialmente. Si no que lo muestran, mucho más, hacia Nancy, la mujer que colabora con ellos. Que es una chica que empezó como ellas. Otro sinsentido más. Y con todo esto, siendo más despectivas entre ellas mismas o con Nancy, que con ellos dos y sin revelarse, pasa la mitad del libro.

Cuando empieza la segunda mitad, parece que comiezan a revelarse y te da esperanzas. Pero sufrí una nueva bajada. Resulta que una de ellas, empieza a tener relaciones con el secuestrador, buscando un trato de favor. Y las otras la odian y sacan rabia contra ella. Y, vale, muy bien, pero ¿no tenéis rabia contra los secuestradores, pero sí contra una de vosotras que solo quiere sobrevivir?

Para colmo, se llevan la mitad de la novela libres sin cadenas y meneándose a su antojo, y no deciden tratar de buscar la manera de escapar. Nada. Absolutamenete nada.

La guinda del pastel de esta segunda parte del libro es que, como no era suficientemente desagradable, una de las protas empieza a cazar conejos para que todas sobrevivan. Y sería genial, si no fuera porque la autora decide expresar cada dos páginas y en todos los capítulos como matan, desmembranan, como les quitan la piel, y todo el resto del proceso. Y lo describe cada dos por tres. Como si no nos hubieramos enterado con las 50 primeras veces que hace referencia. En fin, muy desagradable.

Y ya para finalizar, cuando tienes esperanza que el final de algo de luz a la trama, al cometido de este secuestro y arroje un final que, o bien haga justicia, o bien sea realista, tampoco llega. Te quedas con la misma cara a cuadros que durante el transcurso de la novela. En fin, una gran decepción.

Entiendo la idea de la autora, su denuncia social y lo que quería hacer, pero creo que la plantea francamente mal.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
665 reviews589 followers
July 28, 2018
Oh my god what an inferior piece of garbage. Doesn’t hold a candle to the novels it was obviously trying to emulate: Lord of The Flies, The Handmaid’s Tale, etc. It did start out strong, and the writing on the sentence level was often quite good. But flimsy characterization and an infuriatingly ridiculous premise ruined it utterly. It was nonsensical that a group of ten or so young women would allow themselves to be controlled and abused by a trio of pathetic, idiotic captors wielding a grand total of one baton between the three of them. Just effing stupid. Electrified fence notwithstanding. What a waste of valuable reading time. Bailed two-thirds of the way in.
Profile Image for Warwick.
824 reviews14.5k followers
April 28, 2019
Pitched by most reviewers, inevitably, as like ‘The Handmaid's Tale in the Outback’, this is an engaging feminist paranoid fantasy about male violence and control, quick to read and more nuanced than it initially appears. It starts in medias res and we have to piece things together as we go; which is fun, but Wood never quite delivers on the intriguing set-up, and it's not even really clear what exactly we're being asked to believe has happened, let alone how believable that might be. But watching our characters get broken down and discover their inner reserves of strength (or not) is grimly satisfying – indeed, sometimes a little too inspirational – and Wood cranks the plot developments confidently. So if this is the sort of thing you like, then…well, then this is the sort of thing you'll like.
Profile Image for Carina.
125 reviews39 followers
November 6, 2015
Bloody hell. Calmly and naturally horrific, with tones of Attwood.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
462 reviews289 followers
February 28, 2016
A vey dark twisted story written with a vivid narrative unlike anything I've read before will stick with me for awhile. I only wish there was more of a back story as it was only given in snippets, it felt abit disjointed for me at times and I was left wanting more. This book left me with more questions than answers and left me hanging at the end, it felt abit rushed and incomplete
Profile Image for Elaine.
360 reviews
April 30, 2016
All my friends who read and reviewed this book rated it 4 stars or more. I'm not quite sure what it was about it but for me this was barely a 3 star read. Whilst very well written and the descriptions of the women who were imprisoned and their surrounds perfectly related, I just struggled to become invested. Some of the descriptions were so quintessentially Australian and this was one of the highlights. Gritty and confronting, it was just too much for me to take in and I just didn't find it compelling enough. There were moments where I could become involved in the trials and tribulations of these poor women and even some profound moments where you cannot help but become emotionally involved but the over riding feeling I got from reading this book was one of revulsion. I just couldn't handle the graphic and very base nature of the story as it unfolded. And yes,like another GR friend I felt that a lot was left unanswered and I wasn't completely satisfied with the ending. But Charlotte Wood can definitely write and beautifully and here she held nothing back. Unfortunately, I think for me it was a case of the wrong book at the wrong time. I won this book so I thank the publisher for my copy.
Profile Image for Leah Bayer.
567 reviews207 followers
June 30, 2016
What would people in their old lives be saying about these girls? Would they be called missing? Would some documentary program on the ABC that nobody watched, or one of those thin newspapers nobody read, somehow connect their cases, find the thread to make them a story? The Lost Girls, they could be called. Would it be said, they 'disappeared', 'were lost'? Would it be said they were abandoned or taken, the way people say 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. They lured abduction and abandonment to themselves, they marshalled themselves into this prison where they had made their beds, and now, once more, were lying in them.

This is a book I wanted to love. It sounds like something right up my alley: a group of women are kidnapped and put in a forced labor camp. It turns out that all of them were involved in very public sex scandals and somehow are being punished for this. I mean, it sounds like a premise that would really delve into feminist ideas about womanhood and slut-shaming and consent (because several of the girls had 'sex' scandals about being raped/molested), about how femaleness is pinned as the source of so many wrongs in society. Also, you know, creepy prison shit in a really cool environment (the Outback).

But... it was none of these things. In fact, I think this book is ridiculously sexist. Like offensively sexist. The women here are paper-thin tropes. There is NO connection between any of them, and they turn on each other on a dime. They are judgmental and vain and whine about expensive boots while being forced to work themselves to death. They even slut-shame each other and our two POV girls both think they are both "special" and "different" aka not deserving of the treatment that these other woman obviously deserve for their "actions." Like... what? Sure, women are not some monolith ~rah rah women power~ super sweet lovely nurturing construct. But surely, out of TEN WOMEN, you'd have one who acted like a decent human. Instead it's like some right-wing dude's idea of how women would act together. But the author is female! And this book is supposed to be feminist! How did this happen? I'm so confused.

The plot is all over the place. We never find out why they're in the camp, who had the money to execute this plan, or even how it happened. The entire book is just "oh here we are in this camp" and then 300 pages of them working and whining and bitching at each other and slowly going crazy. Okay, the going crazy part was interesting, but there is NO PLOT. No character development (aside from some very forced stuff at the end). No action. Basically two big things happen in the entire book. It was so dreadfully dull. If you're going to do a plot-less book (a style I usually enjoy) you need either strong characters or a strong theme/idea to discuss. This book has, like, none of the things you want in a book.

Except for the language. I think this was beautifully written, especially the descriptions of the environment and the animals. That's what is saving this from a one-star read. I was just really, really frustrated with every aspect of it other than the writing. Bad characters, no plot, zero discussion of any of the myriad of issues this type of situation would bring up. Bleh. But the cover sure is nice!
Profile Image for Laura.
99 reviews335 followers
September 20, 2017
Para mí esto no entra en la categoría de libro “feminista”. Además he pasado la novela con ganas de vomitar en cada página. Y soy capaz de leer sobre cosas horribles, oscuras y asquerosas (de hecho me gusta hacerlo, llamadme masoquista) pero, ¿de verdad eran necesarias tantísimas y tantísimas Y TANTÍSIMAS escenas de maltrato animal? Entiendo que forma parte del mensaje, de ese lado salvaje del ser humano que quiere transmitir la autora, de la destrucción de estas mujeres y su “renacer” como animales, pero ¿de verdad era necesario? No lo creo. Si necesitas contarme con detalles cómo matar a un conejo y más cosas que no voy a contar... es fácil que me hagas sentir asco. Es la manera fácil de hacerlo. No tiene mérito.
Tampoco he quedado contenta con el desenlace, demasiado vago en mi opinión, ni con que se me vendiese esto como una historia que rompe los mitos patriarcales. Para mí se queda en el intento y siento decir esto pero no recomiendo que perdáis vuestro tiempo.
Y por favor, que dejen de compararla con “El cuento de la criada” porque es el mismo engaño que todos los libros que fueron publicados con la premisa de ser similares a Los juegos del hambre. No creéis falsas expectativas a los lectores. Gracias.
Profile Image for Mary.
425 reviews773 followers
July 31, 2017
Would it be said, they 'disappeared', 'were lost'? Would it be said they were abandoned or taken, 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. They lured abduction and abandonment to themselves, they marshaled themselves into this prison where they had made their beds, and now, once more, were lying in them.
Profile Image for Milie2112.
186 reviews1 follower
December 8, 2015
I really did not like this book.
I just did not get it. The first half was better then the second half.
I kept reading because I really wanted to find out why they were all there, but the ending was so unsatisfactory.
I do not understand the rave reviews.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews125k followers
September 1, 2016
This book tells the story of a group of girls whose only link is that they were all part of a sex-related scandal that made headlines. They had affairs. They were sexually harassed and/or assaulted by their employers or people in positions of authority. And, one morning, they wake up on a run-down sheep station. Their heads are shaved, they are given old-fashioned, highly uncomfortable clothing, and they’re forced into a life of servitude. They don’t know why. They don’t know how. And they don’t know if there is an end in sight. It’s “As if the girls somehow, through the natural way of things, did it to themselves.” I picked this one up because someone said it had a Margaret Atwood vibe, and while there are definite hints of Atwood there, The Natural Way of Things is definitely its own animal. And that’s true in more than one way.

–Cassandra Neace

from The Best Books We Read In July 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/08/01/riot-r...
Profile Image for Paltia.
633 reviews86 followers
November 26, 2019
“ Only now did the two girls look at each other’s faces in wonder at what they had made. A totem, it could be a ghost. It could be a warrior, voodoo doll, goddess, corpse.”
Overhead the cockatoos screech as the seasons change. A seemingly unrelated group of young women are held prisoner by a trio of sadistic and unbalanced people. We question why they are there, who is in charge and how long will this go on? The hate that is fueled and maintained spirals into fantasies of revenge and the wish to destroy or escape. This provides a harrowing and complex look at the emotional entanglements that always accompany what or whom is hated. An unusual and provocative book, Charlotte Wood triumphs in revealing where strength may be found and the gruesome manner in which it can be shown. The fiery spirits of women abound to agitate, anger and ultimately inspire.
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