Have you ever read a book and as each page passes you can see the movie in your head? That is what happened to me as I read The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood. This novel won The Stella Prize in 2016, which is the highest literary prize in Australia. I had heard Simon over at savidgereads.com talk about the book, and was interested. Also, it is published by Europa - my favorite independent publisher. So it was only a matter of time before I picked it up.
The novel focuses on a group of women that wake up one day to find themselves at an encampment where they have been stripped of their clothes, but into uniforms and taken from the real world. The connection is soon made that all of the women have something in common - they have been involved in some sexual scandal. At the start of the book their heads are shaved and the find that the place they are at is surrounded by a electrical fence that will kill them if they try to escape. They are then put to manual labor. There are two men on the site that are in charge, one that is violent and one that seems just to be their for the money.
We eventually learn that the men are waiting for the arrival of someone to take the women away, and that the women are building a round for him to arrive upon. When he does not arrive as planned the entire operation starts to fall apart. The book really focuses on two of the women - Yolanda and Verla. As time goes on, Yolanda becomes the hunter for the group and collects food - mainly hunting rabbits - and in a way starts to loose her humanity. Verla has her own issues to overcome, but has made it her focus to kill the man that has been in charge of the group.
I don't want to give away too much of the story. The book is a study on how women in sexual situations, even when the victim are often blamed for it and punished even when they really have done nothing wrong. Also, it focus on what happens when these women have to revert back to the basics of human survival and how as they become used to their surroundings they loose what we would call their "modern" humanity. The character of Yolanda is fascinating. She is the first to think that she will be saved from her situation, but also the one that changes and copes the best. The relationship between her and Verla is so complicated that it almost defies the ability to be understood. There is a fascinating commentary when the women forfeit one of their own to the man in charge, in order to keep his real nature from coming out and what that does to the woman sacrificed.
Overall, I truly loved this book. I found it challenging, but also an action packed read. It did drag a little bit towards the middle, as it turned from hope to despair but the ending will have you on the edge of your seat. The book has a Margaret Atwood feel to it, with a touch of Cormac McCarthy reality thrown in. I very much see this as a film - and cannot wait to see what it is turned into visually.
My Rating : 4 books