The razor glinted in his hand – he was bored again, and tiring. He unclipped the leash and shoved at the chair so it jolted forwards, tipping her out. She fell but stumbled, recovering, upright. All the stoner’s placidness was gone now; he shoved at her, his strong hands at her back, yelling, “Next,” as he forced her through a different door and Yolanda went sprawling, exactly as a sheep would totter down a slatted chute into the shocking light and shit and terror of the sheep yard, until she found herself in yet another room. Full of bald and frightened girls.
Yolanda wakes, with no memory, in a bare room. She doesn’t know where she is, She is dressed in a strange, Little House on the Prairie smock, she’s drugged and slow. Later she is taken out and her head is shaved. And it emerges 11 other women are also there, dressed identically, led around on leashes, beaten, brutalised. Something connects them. But what could it be?
Charlotte Wood’s latest novel is receiving rave reviews from every corner and I’m afraid I have to be deathly boring and add my voice to the applause. This is a tour de force. A blinding indictment of misogyny, the ways women are punished for breaking the rules – of sexuality, of decorum, of asserting their humanity. Comparisons to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are apt. It reads very similar but also different, the women in Wood’s story are reduced to animals and in a way, that’s freedom. It is scary, moving and wonderfully constructed. Please read this.
The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood: five stars.
Read it if: You loved The Handmaid’s Tale. And even if you didn’t.