I am in awe.
On February 19th in the morning I picked up Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things and I could not put it down and read it in practically one sitting. Now I am staring at the screen trying to put all those jumbled thoughts into words.
I can’t stop gushing over it. I haven’t read such a powerful book that hit a nerve like this one. The Natural Way of Things is a great big nasty filthy book. It is animalistic at times and yet it is compelling. However I could be biased as this novel has a lot of things I like in books; namely it has elements of dystopian literature and it also has feminist undertones.
The setting takes place in a room, where two women, Yolanda and Verla, wake up, have their heads shaved and then are herded into a room with eight other women, all are being punished for contradicting/offending their male superiors. The remainder of the novel switches between Yolanda and Verla’s points of view.
This pen is a horrific edifice. There’s electrical wiring, and the two males who run it beat all ten women at any offence. That is until everyone realises that they cannot leave and then things start to change. Yolanda reverts to acting like an animal, all the women latch on too a physical object, Verla makes it her mission to kill the head of the prison, and one other character, Hetty becomes a sex slave in order to have privileges.
If the description is horrifying then I am doing the book justice. The Natural Way of Things has moments of pure horror. Blood, guts, the whole lot, this is the first novel I’ve read where rabbit fetuses have a symbolic role, but as a statement about patriarchy all the gore and body juices are secondary. The main message here is that even when oppressed by masculinity, the opposite sex will find a way to triumph. Whether by violence or reverting back to nature. There are different ways to rebel and Wood emphasises that.
At times there are shades of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as it also emphasises masculine power and manipulative sex but Wood is more visceral in her descriptions and is quite open with her views. The Natural Way of things is a shocker but through its descriptions it also makes the reader aware of pure suffering and how to survive it. An unforgettable reading experience.