The Natural Way of Things | Charlotte Wood

Kernel Kate reviews Australian dystopian literature THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS from Charlotte Wood. A clever and brutal look at modern misogyny, power and shifting balance. Think an echoed female prison LORD OF THE FLIES mixed with THE MAZE RUNNER (less YA) styled piece of literature. THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS is out now from the folks at Allen and Unwin – you can obtain the book in most bookstores or you can grab it from HERE. Enjoy Kate’s review…….all the best……JK.

 

The Natural Way of Things Book Cover Image
The Natural Way of Things | Charlotte Wood | Salty Popcorn Book Review | Book Cover Image

 

BY KATE DAWES

Charlotte Wood’s THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS is an exploration of human character and societal values framed within a bleak dystopian tale set against the fitting background of the Australian outback.

Waking in darkness in a small, gritty, unfamiliar room wearing clothes which aren’t hers Yolanda knows she is a prisoner. Her instant assumption is that she has been placed in an asylum. In another room Verla waits, mind groggy with sedatives unsure of where she is and apprehensive about what is happening. As Yolanda is pushed into the room Verla feels a flicker of recognition she can’t place. Vera and Yolanda are indeed prisoners in a place more sinister than any modern asylum, quickly finding themselves with shaved heads, tied to a line of other similarly shaved and attired women and forced under threat of violence to march across a stretch of dry dusty outback. They find they are being held in a run down compound surrounded by a heavily electrified fence.

Verla and Yolanda are to become our eyes in a strange tale as they slowly discover they and the other girls being held have something in common, they have all been involved in a well publicised sex scandal. Held under guard by the power hungry and brutal Boncer, laid back hippy Teddy and their ditzy, unqualified nurse Nancy, the girls are treated like dogs, verbally and physically abused and worked hard to prepare for the coming of the mysterious Hardings. But things begin to fall apart when they learn Hardings is no longer coming and the power to the complex is cut, except for the fence, trapping them inside with their captors. As food begins to run low and the balance of power begins to shift, things become interesting.

 

Charlotte Wood author image
The Natural Way of Things | Charlotte Wood | Salty Popcorn Book Review | Author image – Photo Credit: News Corp Australia

 

THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS draws interesting parallels between the landscape and the characters journeys while the landscape at the start of the novel is described as fairly dry and bleak “Outback is the first word that comes to her, then rubbish tip, “dead white grass spiking through the gaps. No trees.” The characters and their thoughts (as we see them) are also dry and lifeless focused on simply surviving. As the novel unfolds and the girls gain some freedom of movement we see both their minds and the landscape begin to come alive with their individuality beginning to flourish and their thoughts and personalities becoming more diverse and defined. We also see the landscape coming to life with rains, plants and animals to become a feature of the narrative where they were unseen earlier.

Judgement and societal values have a large part to play in the power struggles within THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS, the girls begin the book demonised, berated and devalued by their captors who are seen as reflecting societal values and as we hear snippets about media coverage or the other girls opinions of the various scandals they have been embroiled in these opinions certainly seem to be reflective of the captors opinions if a little milder. However after the power is cut and the captors are now also held along with their prisoners these constructs begin to hold less sway and in fact are in no way reflective of the usefulness of the girls in providing for their survival with the girls who are most looked down upon and demonised proving far more influential in securing the group’s future than those formerly in charge.

 

The Natural Way of Things artwork image
The Natural Way of Things | Charlotte Wood | Salty Popcorn Book Review | Cover Artwork

 

Wood’s prose is a driving force in this novel at once drawing us in and propelling us down along this path along with her characters. Feeling at times like you are being pulled through the narrative much as Yolanda and Verla are physically pulled around the compound by Boncer. Shifting tones to reflect the mood is harsh when the girls are truly captive, yanking and jerking, and as they gain some degree of freedom and need to fend for themselves becomes more fluid and animalistic giving us Yolanda “padding” through the bush in the early morning “She dreamed of an animal freedom.”

Thoughtful, bold and different this starkly dystopian tale brings something to Australian literature not often seen. THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS examines our society and how we are reflected in it.

 

4 Pops

 

 

Having always loved stories one of Kernel Kate’s most frequent childhood memories was her parents telling her in the early hours that it was way too late to still be reading and to go to sleep, but she would always sneak in the end of the chapter. Her love of stories led to a career in movies as well as remaining an avid reader of everything from novels to academic papers and junk mail. She makes a perfect reading machine fit to the Salty Cob.