The Natural Way of Things is the fifth novel by Australian author, Charlotte Wood. Verla Learmont and Yolanda Kovacs are two of ten young women who wake from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in a brutal desert setting. Heads shaved, dressed in rough clothing, existing on a diet of instant noodles, cereal and sour milk, unable to bathe due to scarcity of water, and housed in large kennels, they are stripped of their dignity, subjected to hard labour and harsh treatment by their guards.
Their faces are somewhat familiar, and soon enough, they realise what they have in common: each has been involved in a sexual scandal that made them an embarrassment, an inconvenience, to the men involved. Many wonder if they will be rescued; Verla feels sure her lover will come for her; only Yolanda understands that no-one cares enough to look for them, that they will remain at the mercy of their jailers.
After some months, the situation changes, and with it, the balance of power. These (often spoiled) young women take on roles they never dreamed of in their privileged former lives: the pressure-cooker situation forces behaviour foreign to them all. The comparison of Wood’s unsettling tale to Lord of the Flies is certainly valid. Readers may feel a little frustrated with the fact that much is left unexplained, to be guessed at by both reader and characters. And while it is definitely not a comfortable read, it is certainly a powerful one. With thanks to TheReadingRoom and Allen&Unwin for this copy to read and review 3.5 stars