Compulsively disturbing reading from award-winning Australian author, Charlotte Wood.

The Natural Way of Things is a dark, compelling novel. It reminded me of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and as author, Charlotte Woods says herself, she has “written a sledgehammer.”

The winner of the 2016 Stella Prize, The Natural Way of Things, is a novel that will have you thinking and re-evaluating what’s important in life.

A group of women is abducted and held captive in a remote location in the Australian bush. They are there because they have each committed crimes of sexuality. What these crimes are and who the perpetrators of the crimes are is unclear.

Much of the novel’s focus is on the friendship of Yolanda and Verla, and the reader has to make the choice early on whose reality to believe.

Wood weaves sophisticated themes of womanhood, sexuality, emasculation, power relationships, captivity, and celebrity scandal throughout the story. Surreal twists take place against a rich backdrop of vivid imagery and symbolism.

The Lost Girls, they could be called. Would it be said, they ‘disappeared’, ‘were lost’? Would it be said, they were abandoned or taken, the way people said ‘a girl was attacked’, a woman was raped, this femaleness always at the centre, as if womanhood itself were the cause of these things? As if the girls somehow, through the natural way of things, did it to themselves. They lured abduction and abandonment to themselves, they marshalled themselves into this prison where they had made their beds, and now, once more, were lying in them.

The organisation, Hardings International, seems to represent modern life, the addictive shininess of conspicuous expenditure, and a culture of celebrity worship.

Importantly, it is only those who question freedom and take the risks of death, that are the true survivors of the story.

I read The Natural Way of Things late into the night. I couldn’t put down this dark, compelling and horrific novel. Despite the story making me squirm, I couldn’t stop reading and now that I’ve finished reading, I can stop thinking about it. Somehow, I think this is exactly what Wood wanted. An utterly, compulsive read.

Many thanks to the folks at The Stella Prize for my copy of The Natural Way of Things.