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“Only now did the two girls look at each other’s faces in wonder at what they had made. A totem, it could be a ghost. It could be a warrior, voodoo doll, goddess, corpse.”

Henry enjoying the great outdoors. Peron Dunes, St Helens Point, Tasmania. July 2021.

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

This is a rather odd little novel that I couldn't quite figure out. As an exercise in delivering a brutal reality check on the misogeny ingrained in Australian culture, the decidedly odd setting, bizarre ambience and hypnagogic pacing tended to confuse things.

I felt that while the brusque and violent opening was very effective, the drift into a dreamlike meandering through the final two-thirds of the book diluted the initial intensity. The exploration of the shifting loyalties and relations of the imprisoned women seemed plausible, but there's no depth to any of the characters bar two, and even then I was never wholly convinced.

I can understand from an intellectual level the messages around institutional abuse, gendered violence, weakness versus power and the tenuous threads of 'civilisation' and I can see what Wood is trying to do. Unfortunately, as a novel I found it a little too obtuse and hallucinatory to really nail these important themes.

Unlike many (it seems), I will say that I did not mind the ending. Any other conclusion would have further weaken what she is trying to say.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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