Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of a desert. Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be 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? Who is the mysterious security company responsible for this desolate place with its brutal rules, its total isolation from the contemporary world?
In a story of two friends, sisterly love and courage – a gripping, starkly imaginatve exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted.
This book is everywhere right now. You almost can’t escape hearing about this book and for good reason. It’s a book that has been nominated for nearly every Australian book award, won quite a few and been shortlisted for even more.
I picked this book up because I felt like I was missing out on the conversation by not knowing anything about it. Literary fiction is not something I’d normal be perusing in the bookstore, but its an area I try to stay informed on. I do admire literary writers but when I’m looking for a quick read on a Sunday afternoon, I’m more likely to pick up a fantasy or contemporary romance to rip through rather than a complex and layered literary book.
The Natural Way of Things isn’t an easy book to read. It’s not something you’ll just fly through because the content is heavy, and I mean heavy in the emotional and mental sense. It’s all about grey areas and nothing is simple or easily explained. It deals with content that society would rather not talk or think about. So reading this book is confronting and forces self-reflection. But in the end that’s what makes it such a good book.
I wouldn’t say I loved this book because I enjoyed the story, I’d say I love the truth of this book. It deals primarily with a group of women who have been at the centre of sex scandals, whether that’s the mistress of a public figure, a woman who was part of a gang rape, or a woman sexually assaulted by her boss. These girls have been publicly slandered and humiliated across the media. Until they became too much of a burden and were kidnapped, taken to an unknown location in remote Australia and kept there as prisoners. It’s a gritty look into how our society treats female sexuality and how society reacts to sexual assaults. There’s nothing flowery or romantic about it.
It is not pleasant reading. In fact there were a few times when the author was describing how the women were coping with their captivity that I had to put the book down and stop reading for a while. It hit me that hard. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I couldn’t stop thinking about cases in my lifetime where similar sexual scandals had occurred and how myself and the people around me reacted. I’m sad to say there were cases when those reactions where just as the book describes. What I think this book really does in a more subtle way is open the readers eyes to the human under the scandal, it brings humanity back into a situation that has none.
There are a lot of other really interesting elements at play in this book and I could spend hours writing about them all, that’s the thing with literary fiction. It is so complex and layered that it takes a lot of time to break it all down, but my favourite element was the setting.
The Australian landscape is a major element in this story. I felt like the the harshness and the beauty described sang back to the girls themselves. When they wake and find themselves trapped at this compound they are stripped of their beauty, heads shaved, clothes taken and replaced with 50’s style clothing to remove any sense of individuality. And the outback was the same, as the story progresses over time the landscape changes with the seasons and the once barred land comes to life in the spring. It was the element I really enjoyed, mostly because it never felt like a cliche description of my country, but more a detailed and close account of what the wild outback really is.
If you are the kind of person that enjoys reading books that challenge you, or maybe you want to read something that explores this kind of complex content, The Natural Way of Things is for you. It’s not an easy book to read, but one you’ll feel like changes you after you’ve finished. It’s the kind of book that helps you grow and opens your mind to different ways of thinking, but never tells you what to think.
4 stars out of 5
Have you read any great literary books? Got any recommendations for me? Let me know ❤