Subtle: The Natural Way of Things

The Natural Way of ThingsThe Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

This novel isn’t out in the UK until mid-year but I have been so keen to read it I asked my mum to send it to me for Christmas 🙂

Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in a broken-down property in the middle of a desert. They are there with eight other girls, forced to wear strange uniforms, their heads shaved, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a ‘nurse’. The girls all have something in common, but what is it? What crime has brought them here from the city? 

First Impressions: Mysterious… Who are these two girls? Where are they? I like how you see it all from their perspective as they wake up and take it all in for themselves. The remote setting feels very Australian too.

Highlights: This is a wonderful example of contemporary literature. The story did not go the way I expected and I liked it all the more for this as I always respond well to my preconceptions being challenged. Furthermore, it was far from being the misery memoir that the blurb may have you fear and nor is it hard core ‘go the sisterhood’. It is much more subtle and understated than that and after following Charlotte Wood on Twitter I correctly suspected this would be quite an astute novel. I was right! It really deserves a second read (or skim at the least) to fully appreciate each character’s back story as there are no long sections of expository. Blink and you may miss something. Oh, and the yoga obsessed guard who turns out not to be as tolerant as you may assume… what an interesting character. And the benevolent head in charge of the company holding the girls… how odd. I don’t think I fully understand that yet. And hair removal seems to be finely woven (no pun) throughout… did I miss some of these references?

If I was an editor: I don’t know… At times I did wish there was a bit more rollicking plot action but that would change the novel from what it is.

Overall: Should make many shortlists so I am rather chuffed to have already read it!

**Postscript – slightly modified version of my comment below. Apologies for the rambling.

I feel rather foolish for not realising the links Charlotte Wood makes to the Australian detention centres! However, there is so much in this book it really takes time to process everything and I’m sure there’s more I’ve missed.
Anyway, now I have a fresh approach to the novel I need to think about it…
The ‘yoga guard’ who I find so fascinating (book already borrowed by a friend so I don’t know his name)… He begins by being your stereotypical contemporary ‘Byron Bay-er’, encapsulating the relaxed Aussie lifestyle and values but then contradicts this, which obviously parallels the the detention centres in the psyche of Australia… What lurks beneath. Wow. Food shortages, accommodation, medical care… So much to appreciate.

A while after I read Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and Light I did wonder why it is described as an Indigenous book rather than an LGBT book (or even just a book). I suspect I will feel the same about the categorisation of Charlotte Woods’ novel now as the feminist element has immediately taken a back seat…