Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Charlotte Wood’

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

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.

The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

The Weekend by Australian author Charlotte Wood is the story of three friends who are in danger of losing their connection after the death of another friend, Sylvie.

Jude, Wendy and Adele have always met at Sylvie’s beach holiday house near Sydney to spend Christmas together, but this year they are arriving the weekend before Christmas to clear out the house as it is to be sold.

Without Sylvie to balance out their differences, the three women’s personalities and behaviour has become more irritating and hurtful to each other than ever before.

The women’s personalities are very different. Jude is bossy and judgemental, capable and confident. She has been the mistress of a powerful married man for over forty years. As he always spends Christmas with his wife and family, Jude stays with her friends for Christmas. Wendy and Adele both hope that Jude will make her pavlova for Christmas this year, but Jude believes that this last visit is work. Withholding the pavlova is a form of control for Jude.

Wendy is a successful author, an intellectual who continues to put her career before her family and her children now see her as a burden. Wendy’s elderly dog Finn is blind, confused and in pain but Wendy refuses to see that the kindest thing would be to have him put down. The very presence of Wendy’s smelly, incontinent dog infuriates Jude. Wendy’s inability to let Finn go is because Sylvie gave Finn to Wendy as a puppy.

Adele is a taker, a has-been actress who has been out of work for some time. Her most recent love affair has just finished, leaving her homeless. Adele prides herself on her looks and her fitness, and makes a point of using the steep stairs up and down the cliff to the beach house while Jude and Wendy accept the necessity of the inclinator. Although Adele is deluded about her value to others, she is also the best-equipped of her friends to survive whatever life throws at her.

Ageing is hard. My father always said that it beats the alternative, but there comes a time when it probably doesn’t. The three women in this book are doing their best, but poor Finn (the dog) has had it. Despite, or perhaps because of Finn’s state, the dog causes each of the women to have a moment of realisation that will change their lives.

The Weekend is a fairly short book considering how full this story is. I enjoyed watching the three women renegotiate their relationships with each other without Sylvie. The story isn’t really about ageing, although it wouldn’t be the same story if the Jude, Wendy and Adele weren’t facing old age with their differing attitudes and approaches. I loved that they judged, annoyed and were cruel to each other but immediately united when an old secret came out, when a loved one died or when an outsider challenged one of their number.

Charlotte Wood is a quite well-known and well-regarded Australian author who has previously won the Stella Prize and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction, although I’ve never read any of her books before this. I will certainly look out for her other books.

My purchase of The Weekend by Charlotte Wood goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020.

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