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The Natural Way of Things : Winner of the 2016 Stella Prize - Charlotte Wood

The Natural Way of Things

Winner of the 2016 Stella Prize

Paperback

Published: 1st October 2015
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Published: 1st October 2015
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Booktopia Comments

2015 Booktopia Books of the Year - 'One of Australia’s finest novelists delivers again with an intense, unsettling dystopian fable of misogyny, power and the dark corners of the human condition...'

Product Description

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 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'.

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...'As a man, to read it is as unsettling as receiving one piece of bad news after another. It is confronting. Yet anyone who reads it, man or woman, is going to be left with a sense that a long-hidden truth has been revealed to them.

John Purcell's review

Charlotte Wood's latest novel, The Natural Way of Things, seethes with an anger the source of which doesn't seem to be the text itself. Speaking with her, she does admit on reading an early draft to being surprised at discovering this underlying anger in her novel.

Charlotte's last novel, Animal People, sought out the smoothed over hypocrisy of modern life. The sound of muffled laughter accompanied each page.

The Natural Way of Things is different. Different to her other work in many ways. There is Charlotte's crisp realism, her economy of words, her precision, but she has used these tools to conjure up an alternative present, one which sits frighteningly close to reality. A plausible dystopian vision.

The books opens with two women waking in some sort of prison, they have been drugged and are groggy. Neither woman can conceive of how they might have come to be in prison. Neither woman can make sense of the way they are being treated.

A few pages in and we find that these women are not alone. There are other women, and the one thing all seem to share is that they have been involved in some sexual scandal, or were the victims of sexual abuse, or were young women having fun. Too much fun, their incarceration seemed to declare.

Born of the incessant reporting of sexual crimes against women where the victim is made out to be the perpetrator, The Natural Way of Things takes this world only one or two steps forward. Shaming women in the media might not be enough for the next government. Australia has been guilty of locking up women for less in the past, and a future government might find it expedient to punish women for being victims of sexual crimes. This makes Charlotte angry, it seems. So she wrote The Natural Way of Things from this reservoir of anger without quite realising it. And what she has written will be one of the most talked about novels of the year. Because unlike a lot of us when we're angry, Charlotte kept her cool.

Caroline Baum's review

Definitely the book that has generated the most justifiable buzz this year.

This unsettling novel stopped me in my tracks, forcing me to ask myself uncomfortable questions about Australian attitudes to women. No book has haunted me like this one, its grim premise provoking urgent, important, all-too-topical questions. And while that is uncomfortable, it also makes for a bracing, invigorating, read: here is a book that throws down the gauntlet and asks: so, is this who we really are? And if it is, then what are we going to do about it?

Wood's setting is a not-too-far-in-the-future rural dystopia where ten young women find themselves captive, chained together, heads shaved, dressed in restrictive, awkward clothes that itch and bonnets that blinker them. They are the slaves of two lumpen men (one of whom mercifully provides welcome moments of comic relief thanks to his gormless concerns with his own wellbeing), building a road while being served revolting rations. All they have in common is that each one of them has been involved in a sex scandal.

This stark and bleak premise is fertile ground for an exploration of female resilience and male oppression. It's full of threat and menace, and it makes for hard reading at times, except that Wood's prose is armed with the eloquent weaponry of resonant rhythms and beautiful words, no matter how ugly the action gets. Having dropped the realism of her earlier novels like The Children and Animal People, she deploys heightened, often poetic, imagery connected to nature to offer fleeting moments of respite.

This book punches Wood straight to the very top of the list of our boldest, most imaginative writers. I am going to stake my reputation on this one, predicting that it is destined to win one or more of our major literary prizes in a very strong field. If it doesn't, well, dish me up some mushrooms (you'll understand when you've read it).

REVIEW SNAPSHOT®

by PowerReviews
The Natural Way of Things
 
3.6

(based on 14 reviews)

Ratings Distribution

  • 5 Stars

     

    (4)

  • 4 Stars

     

    (5)

  • 3 Stars

     

    (2)

  • 2 Stars

     

    (2)

  • 1 Stars

     

    (1)

71%

of respondents would recommend this to a friend.

Pros

  • Well written (11)
  • Engaging characters (5)
  • Page turner (5)
  • Deserves multiple readings (4)
  • Suspenseful (3)

Cons

  • Disappointing (4)
  • Not what I expected (4)

Best Uses

  • Older readers (5)
  • Gift (3)
    • Reviewer Profile:
    • Everyday reader (8), Bookworm (6)

Most Liked Positive Review

 

A compelling read

Wow! What a fabulous book. The imagery captured the desolation of the land and the desperation of the girls perfectly; you could almost smell them. A very well written and compelling read,...Read complete review

Wow! What a fabulous book. The imagery captured the desolation of the land and the desperation of the girls perfectly; you could almost smell them. A very well written and compelling read, I had to find out what would happen to these poor girls.

VS

Most Liked Negative Review

 

Didn't like it

Maybe my expectations were too high after seeing so many great reviews. I wanted to like it, but I thought too many characters were one-dimensional and the way all of them interacted and behaved...Read complete review

Maybe my expectations were too high after seeing so many great reviews. I wanted to like it, but I thought too many characters were one-dimensional and the way all of them interacted and behaved was unbelievable, especially after they realised they'd been abandoned. There were too many unresolved questions. It was a very intriguing concept, but I didn't like the way it was executed. Good descriptive writing though.

Reviewed by 14 customers

Displaying reviews 1-10

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1.0

Disappointing after all the acclaim

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By 

from Sydney AU

About Me Bookworm

Verified Buyer

Pros

    Cons

    • Disappointing
    • Not What I expected
    • Too Black

    Best Uses

      Comments about The Natural Way of Things:

      I bought this because it was an award winner, the author gave a great acceptance speech, and it was very well reviewed.
      However, it did not engage me at all. Such a black, pessimistic, nihilistic view of human nature. I dont mind a book which is confronting, but surely there is a place for hope and humanity?

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      2.0

      Horrible book

      By 

      from Helensburgh

      About Me Bookworm

      Pros

      • Well Written

      Cons

      • Disappointing
      • Frustrating
      • Unresolved
      • Unsympathetic Characters

      Best Uses

      • Kindling

      Comments about The Natural Way of Things:

      I bought this book based purely on Booktopia's glowing reviews - won't be doing that again any time soon. It's an interesting premise, but executed poorly, with an engaging opener that leads nowhere.

      As a feminist, I care about the issues this book explores, but I found myself not caring at all about the characters, as each of them is by turns alienating and repugnant, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. When there isn't a single character you connect with, reading a narrative becomes a chore - I forced myself to plod through it, thinking it would surely pick up as more info was revealed. Instead I found myself becoming more and more frustrated as every plot thread petered out into nothing, every character became more irritating and unlikable (including the woefully underdeveloped ones), with it all culminating in the most unsatisfying of all open endings.

      No doubt some of this was intentional by the author, to reflect the feelings of hopelessness and despair in the protagonists, but it becomes too much to ask of a reader you have already failed to engage enough to give a hoot if your characters live or die.

      My overall feeling upon finishing this book was one of frustrating pointlessness - what's the point of reading it? It tells us nothing, resolves nothing, accomplishes nothing, and inspires nothing in the reader but irritation and disappointment for the lost opportunity of what potential story COULD have been made with this premise.

      The second star is for the writing being good enough to create an encompassing, visceral setting, otherwise, this book is a one-star deal. Don't waste your time.

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      4.0

      Not what I was expecting

      By 

      from Sydney

      About Me Everyday Reader

      Verified Buyer

      Pros

      • Deserves Multiple Readings

      Cons

      • Not What I expected

      Best Uses

      • Older Readers

      Comments about The Natural Way of Things:

      Not a book I would necessarily choose but was selected for bookclub. Read it after a friend had already finished it and she didn't like it at all so didn't have high hopes. Another friend said it was like a female version of Lord of the Flies (which it is to some extent) however I found it more engaging than I expected. Well written, kept me thinking, still thinking about it - why they were there, what happened ... Fairly easy and quick read. On to A Little Life!

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      4.0

      Food for Thought

      By 

      from Brisbane

      About Me Everyday Reader

      Verified Buyer

      Pros

      • Well Written

      Cons

      • Subject Matter

      Best Uses

      • Book Club

      Comments about The Natural Way of Things:

      This is a beautifully presented and written book. However, I did find the subject matter rather difficult. Even though the subject matter and descriptive passages are difficult to process it is thought provoking and provides a lot of discussion material.

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      4.0

      Interesting read

      By 

      from Bulli

      About Me Bookworm

      Verified Buyer

      Pros

      • Engaging Characters
      • Well Written

      Cons

        Best Uses

        • Gift
        • Older Readers
        • Travel Reading

        Comments about The Natural Way of Things:

        I liked this book, quite utopian and it reminded me of Margaret Atwood's "the Handmaid's Tale." I heard CHarlotte Wood being interviewed where she said that she had not read Atwood until after she had finished her book. I liked the development of the characters but was disappointed in the ending. For me it did not come to a satisfactory conclusion. However overall a very good read and worthy of the Stella prize.

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        5.0

        Amazing book!

        By 

        from Sydney, Australia

        About Me Everyday Reader

        Verified Buyer

        Pros

        • Deserves Multiple Readings
        • Engaging Characters
        • Page Turner
        • Well Written

        Cons

          Best Uses

            Comments about The Natural Way of Things:

            I thought this book was amazing.Yes it was a violent at times but not violence for violence's sake.We read it for our Book Club but most people didn't like it at all.It is a very different type of book. Our ladies hated the ending but I felt it was appropriate. It is a book with lots of deep meaning and I felt that maybe people just don't get it.A book I will never forget and I intend to read it again which is rare for me.

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            3.0

            A good great but not a great read

            By 

            from Central Coast ,NSW

            About Me Everyday Reader

            Verified Buyer

            Pros

              Cons

              • Disappointing

              Best Uses

                Comments about The Natural Way of Things:

                I was a bit surprised by this book, I think I expected a more unique storyline. I certainly didn't have any difficulty getting through it and found it improved towards the end but I think there are far better reads in the same genre.

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                4.0

                A different read

                By 

                from Qld

                About Me Everyday Reader

                Pros

                • Engaging Characters
                • Hard To Put Down
                • Page Turner
                • Well Written

                Cons

                  Best Uses

                  • Younger Readers

                  Comments about The Natural Way of Things:

                  I won this book I did not buy it, however, once I started reading it there was little chance I was going to put it down till it was finished. This book is like no other I have ever read.

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                  3.0

                  The feminist argument

                  By 

                  from Sydney

                  About Me Everyday Reader

                  Verified Buyer

                  Pros

                  • Well Written

                  Cons

                  • Not What I expected

                  Best Uses

                  • Book Club

                  Comments about The Natural Way of Things:

                  There's so much to talk about with this book, it makes for great discussions. I'm a fan of Charlotte's work but I found this a rather frustrating read. Perhaps it's the intended reaction to a work where women are clearly deemed an annoyance to the ambitions of men. You'll probably find, like me, you'll be annoyed but unable to put it down....

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                  4.0

                  A harrowing unusual read - but good

                  By 

                  from Sydney

                  About Me Everyday Reader

                  Verified Buyer

                  Pros

                  • Well Written

                  Cons

                    Best Uses

                    • Older Readers

                    Comments about The Natural Way of Things:

                    good read

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                    'As a man, to read it is as unsettling as receiving one piece of bad news after another. It is confronting. Yet anyone who reads it, man or woman, is going to be left with a sense that a long-hidden truth has been revealed to them. The Natural Way of Things is a brave, brilliant book. I would defy anyone to read it and not come out a changed person.' Malcolm Knox, author of The Wonder Lover..

                    'This is a stunning exploration of ambiguities - of power, of morality, of judgement. With a fearless clarity, Wood's elegantly spare and brutal prose dissects humanity, hatreds, our ambivalent capacities for friendship and betrayal, and the powerful appearance - always - of moments of grace and great beauty. The book's ending undid me through the shape of the world it reveals as much as its revisions of escape and survival. It will not leave you easily; it took my breath away.' Ashley Hay, author of The Railwayman's Wife

                    Charlotte Wood

                    Charlotte Wood is an Australian fiction writer.

                    Her fourth novel, Animal People, will be released by Allen & Unwin in October 2011. Her most recent work was to edit Brothers & Sisters, a collection of short stories and non-fiction about siblings by 12 of Australia’s finest writers.

                    Her last novel, The Children, was described by Australian Book Review as “a graceful and empathetic portrayal of one family seeking to understand itself," and The Australian described her as “a captivating, questing writer whose work is well worth watching”.

                    The Children was shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Association’s literary fiction book of the year. Charlotte’s previous novel, The Submerged Cathedral, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in its region 2005. Her first book, Pieces of a Girl, was also shortlisted for several prizes.

                    Charlotte has answered our Ten Terrifying Questions - read them here

                    Visit Charlotte Wood's Booktopia Author Page


                    ISBN: 9781760111236
                    ISBN-10: 1760111236
                    Audience: General
                    Format: Paperback
                    Language: English
                    Number Of Pages: 320
                    Published: 1st October 2015
                    Publisher: Allen & Unwin
                    Country of Publication: AU
                    Dimensions (cm): 20.8 x 15.3