Book Review: “The Natural Way of Things” by Charlotte Wood (@AusWomenWriters #AWW2018)


Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things (Allen & Unwin, October 2015) is a terrifying read. Not only because it depicts a group of women being imprisoned, enslaved and tortured in the harsh Australian wildness. More importantly, it is because the book tackles what I have come to understand as the nature of sorority or sisterhood. Or, I should say, how women interact with each other in (extra)ordinary circumstances. Specifically: How women evaluate themselves and others and take such evaluation for granted as a “natural” process.

Perhaps you, too, have seen footages of how female elephants console each other in times of distress. While reading Wood’s portrayal of her female characters, I often wonder why women cannot be more like elephants. There is no silent consolation in this story. Women see. Women compare. Women judge. Women gossip. Women probe. Women demand. Women form small circles as self-defence yet mercilessly and endlessly pick on each other. Women enjoy their privacy while monitoring all outside of their worlds with a critical eye. Women are, in a word, jealous.

With all that said, who among us does not admire the book’s two outstanding characters, Yolanda and Verla, who bravely and brutally confront their manipulators? I enjoy reading the power struggle and psychological warfare between the group of women. Both Nancy and Hetty emerge as ultimate losers in this process, yet they do not go down without a fight. Their pathetic attempt to win a bit of favour over the others only serves to highlight how cruel and self-righteous women can be in a female version of The Lord of the Flies.

Today, when we talk about intersectionality, we pay specific attention to those social categories that contribute to the creation of overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. However, in The Natural Way of Things, women distinguish and define each other NOT according to ordinary social categories such as race or class, and certainly NOT with gender. Rather, they allocate a myriad of labels on themselves and others using commonly accepted behavioural and moral “norms” – reference points that they inherit from our “normal” world and “naturally” proceed to apply to the “abnormal” situation where they find themselves trapped. In other words, what is alarming is how women are made this way and how they take the consequences of such making for granted, as the “natural” way of things. It is really quite scary.

You can find more details about Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things here.


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