Shortlist year: 2016

Shortlist category: Fiction

Published by: Allen & Unwin

Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in a broken-down property in the middle of nowhere. Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a 'nurse'. Doing hard labour under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what links them—in each girl's past is a sex scandal with a powerful man. They pray for rescue—but when the food starts running out it becomes clear that the girls can only rescue themselves.

About the author

Charlotte Wood

Charlotte Wood

The Australian newspaper has described Charlotte Wood as “one of our most original and provocative writers”. She is the author of five novels and a book of non- fiction. Her latest novel, The Natural Way of Things, won the 2016 Indie Book of the Year and Indie Fiction Book of the Year prizes, has been shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the Victorian Premier's Literary Award, and shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Charlotte was also editor of the short story anthology Brothers and Sisters and for three years edited The Writer's Room Interviews magazine.

Judges’ comments

Charlotte Wood's The Natural Way of Things is a profoundly disturbing dystopian novel. She has the literary imagination to conjure a future that resonates powerfully with the here and now. The reader is invited to contemplate an ugly and misogynistic future in which a detention centre is owned by a multinational corporation, manned by brutal guards and is filled with women who would more properly be deemed victims in a civil society. If it sounds familiar that is because it is. The inmates are girls whose sexuality has demanded punishment. They include a victim of pack rape by football hooligans, a politician’s lover, a hapless tourist on a cruise ship and the victim of a predatory television producer. The developing relationships, the deepening friendships and alliances between the women inmates will culminate in a thrilling bid for freedom.

This is a novel that works as both a powerfully evocative allegory and a shockingly realist narrative—a remarkable feat in a literary culture that no longer easily accepts the blurring of genres. Wood dares the reader to acknowledge the reality that, despite an increased public awareness the degradation of and violence towards women, is escalating rather than abating. Redemption for the central figures in The Natural Way of Things is found in the natural world. Despite the remote and harsh setting, the bush offers physical and psychological relief, refuge and sustenance for this group of women who are determined to survive. Though the novel is bleak and might lead the reader to despair, the stylistic elegance that Wood brings allows us a glimpse of a future that might just allow for hope.