Published by Europa on June 28th 2016
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At some point, before reading Charlotte Wood’s new novel, I’d heard it described as dystopian. It’s an understandable categorization; the book starts with eight women waking up on an abandoned sheep farm in the middle of the Australian desert, seemingly drugged. Chained together with their heads shaved, the women are guarded by two men and forced to work hard labor with little explanation or reason, other than the slogan: “Dignity and Respect in a Safe and Secure Environment.” Their new lives are characterized by fear and they are stripped of everything that once made them vibrant and unique.
But they start to realize what they have in common.
“…they are the minister’s-little-travel-tramp and that-Skype-slut and the yuck-ugly-dog from the cruise ship; they are pig-on-a-spit and big-red-box, moll-number-twelve and bogan-gold-digger-gangbang-slut. They are what happens when you don’t keep your fucking fat slag’s mouth shut.”
They were all involved in sexual scandals. They wore clothes thought to be revealing. They were sexually abused. They were publicly shamed.
The Natural Way of Things reads like a dark hallucination, particularly as the novel progresses and dynamics on the farm shift to raise new questions about who is in control and why. It’s haunting and infuriating, even empowering, with an ending that will have you desperate to talk…but it doesn’t feel dystopian. When the witness statement from the Stanford victim is released halfway through your read, it’s clear that every bit of the novel is possible. Then again, if a dystopia is a community or society that is undesirable or frightening, perhaps the term is not far off.