The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
The Natural Way of Things is a novel of – and for – our times, explosive yet written with artful, incisive coolness. It parodies, with steely seriousness, the state of being visible and female in contemporary Western society. In this novel, women who expose high-profile predatory sexuality in politics, sport, entertainment and elsewhere are abducted and taken to a rural re-education camp run by hired and aggressive opportunists who work for a bland yet sinister corporation. There they endure violence, coercion, forced labour and semi-starvation in an effort to reduce them to a state of compliance, both in their daily behaviour and through the internalisation of the contempt in which they are held. Pain and degradation are visited upon a group of women whose only crime is to be young, female and attractive.
The novel is not sentimental. Women collude with their oppressors; they are not above sad allegiances, betrayals and extended states of denial. Good and evil as moral absolutes are deliberately blurred. One of the remarkable and powerful aspects of the novel is the way it depicts the inner sympathies and irritations of individual women as they dismiss one another or move closer to an understanding of each other. In the novel, women are told, with some hostility, that “you need to know what you are”. The women, however, arrive at their own understanding of their identities and of the extent to which they are prepared to compromise and to support one another.
The ending is provocative: this novel, which uses some of the motifs of fairy tales, reminds us that fairy tales can be culturally potent and troubling, and the best and strangest of them have thought-provoking conclusions. Although the story uses venerable literary motifs of entrapment and transformation, one of the great achievements of The Natural Way of Things is that it also has such recognisable elements of the contemporary public shaming and silencing of transgressive women. The novel provokes serious and important conversations. It is a timely tale, as Australia considers issues surrounding public and domestic violence, in particular violence against women. The Natural Way of Things is a riveting and necessary act of critique.
Exposing the threads of misogyny, cowardice and abuses of power embedded in contemporary society, this is a confronting, sometimes deeply painful novel to read. With an unflinching eye and audacious imagination, Charlotte Wood carries us from a nightmare of helplessness and despair to a fantasy of revenge and reckoning.
– Brenda Walker, Chair of the 2016 judging panel
Charlotte Wood is the author of five novels and a book of nonfiction, and for three years edited The Writer’s Room Interviews magazine. Her latest novel, The Natural Way of Things, is the winner of the 2016 Stella Prize. It will be published in the UK and North America in 2016. 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. The Australian newspaper has described Charlotte Wood as “one of our most original and provocative writers.”