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.’
The Natural Way of Things is a poignant, heartbreaking novel that explores contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and reminds me a lot of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
This novel is about two women who awake 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.
With beautiful prose, heartbreaking helplessness, and ruthless guards that hunt them, The Natural Way of Things is something to be admired. It is one of those novels that you finish and you’re forced to sit back and ponder over for quite some time. You feel like you understand the meaning of the story, but you know that there were so many subtle undercurrents to the tale that you haven’t fully grasped yet.
These women were shooed away from society because of their crimes, and there is no escape for them. This feminist novel highlights how women are viewed in society, especially when involved in a public sex scandal. Some of these women are innocent and some are guilty, and yet they’ve all been grouped together and deemed guilty by those above them. They are deemed unwanted, unloved, uncared for, and they soon grow mad in their circumstances and try to clutch onto any chance they have of escaping.
Charlotte Wood uses such beautiful language to craft these characters, and soon we find ourselves understanding not only the girls trapped there, but the male guards who clearly don’t fully understand the part they play in this prison. They are merely middle men, who are being told what to do and what to think and who don’t realise that they too are being repressed and moulded by society.
This novel explores humanity, misogyny, sexism, survival, feminism, hatred, and society’s tendency to blame women or accept the viewpoint of a powerful and dominant figure. A fantastic read – a must read. I recommend this to everyone, both men and women, youth and adult.