Book reviews

I started The Natural Way of Things by Australian author Charlotte Wood with a strong sense of anticipation, having enjoyed The Weekend very much.

The story began with a group of women waking up at a remote, abandoned outback farm after having been drugged and kidnapped. Once awake, their heads were shaved and they were given clothing reminiscent of the outfits the handmaids wore in Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, before being shackled together and beaten into submission by two seemingly ordinary young men whose job it was to guard them.

As the story evolved it emerged that each of women had been publicly ‘slut-shamed’ in the media before being taken to the dry, dusty, infertile farm, which was surrounded by an inpenetrable electric fence.

One woman had been humiliated after her affair with a government minister became known, another the same but with a high-profile religious figure. Several women had been the victims of gang-rapes, one on a cruise ship after which she had been left for dead by her rapists, while another woman had been raped by a group of footballers. One young woman had been a promising swimmer before becoming a victim of her high-profile sports coach. None of the women’s stories were particularly different to those that are in the media today, day in and day out.

The media not only slut-shamed the women, but they also victim-blamed them by presenting the events and the perpetrators’ behaviour as the women’s own fault.

The story particularly followed two of the women, Yolanda and Verla, who eventually became friends of a sort. There were friendships between other women too, as well as instances of the women turning on each other.

When the food stores on the infertile, dry dusty farm began to run out and it became clear even to the women’s captors that there was no escape for any of them, Yolanda took on the role of provider and trapped rabbits to keep all of them, including their captors alive. Over time each of the women and their captors fell into some degree of madness.

The early stages of The Natural Way of Things was so like The Handmaid’s Tale that I felt uncomfortable reading it, wondering if there was a case for plagiarism, however as the story evolved it went in a very different direction to The Handmaid’s Tale.

I appreciated the points the story made, but much preferred The Weekend over The Natural Way of Things.

Comments on: "The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood" (14)

  1. Rose, this sounds unremittingly dark and depressing. Quite horrifying in fact!

  2. this sounds a very difficult read, not for me I think.

    • Looking back after a few weeks, I still think the premise relied too heavily on the Handmaid’s Tale even though the plot went in a different direction. If you were interested in this author I would recommend The Weekend.

  3. Wow this sounds grim… The Handmaid’s Tale has been very influential so it’s not surprising that there are similarities. Hope you enjoy your next read more 🙂

    • I’ve never read anything else that was influenced by The Handmaid’s Tale before but suspect there are books out there. Not sure I would read them, though.
      I’m bogged down in The Wings of the Dove at present, so have taken my reading in an entirely different direction.

  4. I didn’t really see it as being closely influenced by The handmaid’s tale, though I can see your point. Wood’s inspiration was different, ie way women are scapegoated for any sexual misadventure or misconduct. Whereas I think Atwood was driven by the rise of a fundamentalist right?

    I guess both are about the subjugation of women, but they come from different triggers?

    I liked it more than The weekend, because it was meaty and confronting!

    • I felt as if the costumes and bonnets that obstructed their vision which the women were forced to wear, along with having their hair shaved was influenced by The Handmaid’s Tale. The reasons why the women were kidnapped were certainly different, though.
      I’m not surprised you liked this better than The Weekend, the more controversial ideas suit your reading/reviewing style better, whereas I liked the more ‘comfy’ style and recognisable environment of The Weekend.

      • Ah, I guess for me that sort of treatment of prisoners is fairly common, in extreme situations, so it didn’t really click as Atwood.

        But you are probably right about my liking controversial ideas. I don’t mind comfy but too much of it can get boring … too much like my life! (However, I did like The weekend too, though, I do have older women friends, already in the 70s who detested it, finding it’s depiction of women’s friendship decided.y unpleasant and not comfy!)

        • My mother, who is also in that age group, also disliked the characters and their unpleasant behaviour towards each other. They reminded me a little of some family relationships, in that they squabbled amongst themselves but united when anyone else treated them badly. I thought they were very human.

          • Yes, I saw it more your way too Rose (and I am scarily close the the age of the women in the book). Most of my reading group – some in that age group some like me in the decade before – took this view that fundamentally they cared and were united.

          • You’ve made me realised that we all see what we want to or what our experiences lead us to see in the character’s relationships.

          • I think that’s true … we are probably not as open minded as we’d like to think we are!

          • I’m constantly reminded of that when I read other people’s reviews and see what I have missed (or misunderstood). Comments are educational, too.

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