This paper focuses on Charlotte Wood’s 2015 dystopian novel The Natural Way of Things
. Set in an unnamed place in the Australian outback, it recounts the story of 10 girls in their late teens and early twenties who are kept prisoners by a mysterious corporate organisation for their sexual involvement with an array of powerful men. The novel’s title invites two main readings: the first, and perhaps more obvious, along gender lines; and the second, which will provide the backbone to my analysis, within the framework of the natural world, the animal kingdom in particular. The Natural Way of Things
has been described as a study in contemporary misogyny and the workings of patriarchy. The ingrained sexism of society—the insidious, normalised violence against females, often blamed on them, glossing over male responsibility—is undoubtedly the central topic of Wood’s work. Without losing sight of gender issues, my approach to Wood’s novel is inspired by Rosi Braidotti’s posthuman theories on the continuum nature–culture and the primacy of zoe
—“the non-human, vital force of life”—over bios
, or life as “the prerogative of Anthropos” (Rosi Braidotti). According to Braidotti, the current challenges to anthropocentrism question the distinction between these two forms of life, highlighting instead the seamless connection between the natural world and culture and favouring a consideration of the subject as embodied, nomadic and relational. My reading of The Natural Way of Things
in light of Braidotti’s insights will be supplemented by an analysis of the novel in the context of transmodernity, both a period term and a distinct way of being in the world theorised by critics such as Rosa M. Rodríguez Magda and Marc Luyckx, who emphasise the relational, interdependent nature of contemporary times from a more human-centred perspective. The Natural Way of Things
is also a story of female empowerment. This is especially the case with Yolanda Kovacs and Verla Learmont, the two protagonist women, who step out of their roles as victims and stand up to their guards. My analysis of the novel will revolve around these two characters and their different reactions to confinement and degradation. I conclude that although a more zoe
-centred conception of the human subject that acknowledges the human–animal continuum should definitely be welcomed, literally “becoming animal”, as Yolanda does, deprives one of meaningful human relationality, embodied in the novel in Verla’s memories of her caring, empathic relationship with her father.