Stella Prize Longlist Book of the Day, Book 11: Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things
Each weekday between now and the announcement of the 2016 Stella Prize shortlist on March 10, we’ll be turning the Stella spotlight on a different longlisted author and their book. Today is day 11, and our featured book is…
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
What the Stella Prize judges said:
In The Natural Way of Things ten women are imprisoned on an isolated property, forced into hard labour in scorching heat while wearing rough uniforms and vision-impairing bonnets. They are given no reason for their incarceration, but they gradually determine that each has been involved in a public sex scandal, making them dangerous, embarrassing or inconvenient to men who have the power to punish them. As their food runs out and it becomes evident that their guards have also been abandoned by whatever power placed them there, the women are forced to look to each other for survival.
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.
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.’
Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in a broken-down property in the middle of nowhere. 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’. The girls all have something in common, but what is it? What crime has brought them here from the city?
Who is the mysterious security company responsible for this desolate place with its brutal rules, its total isolation from the contemporary world? 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.
The Natural Way of Things is a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted. Most of all, it is the story of two friends, their sisterly love and courage.
With extraordinary echoes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies, The Natural Way of Things is a compulsively readable, scarifying and deeply moving contemporary novel. It confirms Charlotte Wood’s position as one of our most thoughtful, provocative and fearless truth-tellers, as she unflinchingly reveals us and our world to ourselves.
About the author:
Charlotte Wood is the author of five novels and a book of non-fiction, and editor of The Writer’s Room Interviews magazine. Her last novel, Animal People, was longlisted for the Miles Franklin award and her other books have been shortlisted for many prizes including the Miles Franklin and the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction. The Australian described her as “one of our finest and most chameleonic writers”. She lives in Sydney.
What the critics said:
‘Charlotte Wood’s fifth novel The Natural Way of Things is a virtuoso performance, plotted deftly through a minefield of potential traps, weighted with allegory yet swift and sure in its narrative advance. As an idea for a novel, it’s rich, and to achieve that idea the writer has been courageous. Her control of this story is masterful.’ Rosemary Sorensen, Sydney Review of Books
‘I was gripped by the full-bodied, precise prose. Wood deftly shows us how we are savage, revolting, tender, desperate, and especially how we survive.’ Emily Gale, Readings
‘The Natural Way of Things is a novel to provoke thought, conversation, disgust, anger and concern, a work that will haunt the reader with its poetry and the stark truths buried within Wood’s brilliant exploration of a toxic culture in extremis.’ Portia Lindsay, The Australian
‘Wood has written an allegory for our society’s treatment of women, through channels such as social media and domestic violence. Just as the women in The Natural Way of Things are intimidated, violated, reduced to their barest pieces, so many people in our world have their rights to privacy, their rights to safety, their rights to humanity, dissolved.’ Kyra Bandte, Writer’s Edit
- Read an extract of The Natural Way of Things
- Click here for reading group notes
- Charlotte Wood’s website
- ABC Radio National interviews Charlotte Wood about The Natural Way of Things
- TNWOT Film Announcement from Katia Nizic on Vimeo
- Charlotte Wood shares her five favourite Australian authors for Booktopia