The Natural Way of Things is a novel that lays bare the rape culture and slut shaming of today’s contemporary misogyny. The book is an exploration of this toxic culture to the extreme as Wood confronts the realities of the world we live in today; where women are name called, shamed and forced to prove they didn’t ‘ask for it’.
Charlotte Wood was listening to a radio documentary on the Hays Institution, where young girls who reported being sexually assaulted were sent. She found it so shocking that she was inspired to write a book. Now in The Independent Booksellers top ten, The Natural Way of Things began based in the past but Wood’s interest was piqued as she started noticing similar things happening in today’s media.
“I saw the story about the army cadet who was unknowingly filmed having sex and who consequently became known as the ‘skype slut’. I felt angry at the way women were being mistreated and decided that the story should really be based in the present,” she said.
Verla and Yolanda wake up groggy from a drugged sleep and find themselves in what appears to be an asylum but which they soon discover is an isolated prison camp in the middle of the desert.
They have no idea where they are or why they are there, only that they are forced to wear uncomfortable uniforms, have their heads shaved and sleep in hot cells called dog boxes. There are ten girls in total who are chained to each other and used as slave labour to build a road for a mysterious boss.
The first exchange between Boncer and Verla sets the tone early in the piece, as Verla asks, ‘I need to know where I am?’ to which Boncer replies, ‘Oh sweetie, You need to learn what you are?’
As the girls become familiar with one another they soon learn that each one has been involved in some type of public sex scandal. Boncer’s words return to Verla and she learns exactly what they are, ‘They are the ministers-little-travel-tramp and that skype-slut, the-yuck-ugly-dog-from-the-cruise-ship; the-pig-on-the-spit and big-red-box, moll-number-twelve and the-bogan-gold-digger-gang-bang-slut. They are what happens when you don’t keep your f’ing mouth shut.’
The situation for the girls rapidly goes from bad to worse as they are repeatedly threatened, degraded, name called and worked to the bone. The chief guard, Boncer, is an unabashed misogynist, inspiring constant fear of abuse, rape and worse, in the girls.
The relationships between the girls is tense, untrusting and sometimes even hate filled. These bonds and friendships show the complexity of female relationships. Wood explained that she wanted to make the story as real as possible because, “In reality women are not necessarily going to support each other just because they are women, and neither should they have too.”
The Natural Way of Things is a dark and compelling must-read. There were many moments that cause one to look up from the page to consider just how real the events that were happening in the book were in the present day. It is a very thought provoking read and intensifies personal awareness of the most subtle forms of misogyny and the labelling of women in the media.
Wood said at many times she wanted to turn away from the darkness of the book but when she did, it stopped working. “I realised I just had to let go and allow myself to go into the dark place and that’s when it all started coming together,”she said
Charlotte Wood will be holding a conversation about The Natural Way of Things at Avid Reader, West End Thursday 22 October, 6pm. This Salon will be a great opportunity to delve deeper into her book. She will also be appearing at Riverbend, Bulimba, Friday 23 October.
Words by Rachael Sechtig