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The Natural Way of Things : Joint Winner 2016 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Fiction - Charlotte Wood

The Natural Way of Things

Joint Winner 2016 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Fiction

Paperback Published: 1st October 2015
ISBN: 9781760111236
Number Of Pages: 320

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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).

Industry Reviews

'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

Brilliant and Prescient


An extraordinary work. Brilliantly written and a bellwether for our age. A dystopian world that eclipses The Handmaid's Tale. Read it. Share it



I would buy this product again


I was drawn into this book from the opening sentence and could not put it down. Bleak subject matter but so well written and suspenseful. A deserving winner of the Prime Minister's Literary Award. My only disappointment with this book was that it ended. Buy it!



A very disturbing read


This book was quite disturbing. I was hoping we would get some answers at the end but it left you wondering.

South Australia


Great read


This is very well-written and has some really interesting ideas. However I'll take off a star as I felt the plot didn't always gel and that most of the characters lacked a bit of depth.





This book came highly recommended however, while the plot had lot's of potential, it never really got there for me and I was disappointed. The book moved at a slow pace that never really reached a high point and the ending for me was a let down. No doubt open to interpretation, it was a chore to finish and, I never really got the point!

Melbourne, VIC


I could not put this book down!!!


I absolutely loved this book! The characters are very interesting and I could not put the book down! So suspenseful! I ended up buying it for two friends at Christmas time who both said the exact same thing.

Melbourne, Australia


Disappointing after all the acclaim


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?

Sydney AU


Horrible book


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.



Not what I was expecting


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!



Food for Thought


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.



The Natural Way of Things

3.8 20


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

Charlotte Wood

About the Author

The Australian has described Charlotte Wood as 'one of our most original and provocative writers.'

She is the author of five novels and a book of non-fiction. Her latest novel, The Natural Way of Things, won the 2016 Indie Book of the Year and Indie Fiction Book of the Year prizes, has been shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the Victorian Premier's Literary Award, and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award.

Charlotte was also editor of the short story anthology Brothers and Sisters, and for three years edited The Writer's Room Interviews magazine. Her work has been shortlisted for various prizes including the Christina Stead, Kibble and Miles Franklin Awards. Two novels -  The Children and The Natural Way of Things - have been optioned for feature films.
Charlotte has answered our Ten Terrifying Questions - read them here

Visit Charlotte Wood's Booktopia Author Page