I heard Charlotte Wood speak about this novel at a book launch. Just as the cover offers an aesthetic meld of beauty and threat, the subject matter is both entirely confronting and yet scarily familiar.
Wood spoke about her observance over the years of how women, thrown into the public eye as the subject of a sexual indiscretion or assault were most often than not, vilified for the crimes done to them. Contemplating on the role of the media and that of the masses in casting these women aside, Wood has constructed an eery and confronting setting for examination of the public and individual conscience.
She spoke of several very public accounts, such as the DJ’s case, and the mid century example of the Hays Institute, which inspired this novel of such shocking persecution. This all makes the novel sound like it is a lot of hard work -it isn’t. Wood’s style is rather minimalistic, yet evocative, she makes it easy for the reader to be hooked by the characters and the bizarre circumstances they find themselves in.
Wood explores the responses of ten women, and their three jailors, as they awake to find themselves imprisoned in a terrible Australian dust-bowl surrounded by an enormous electric fence under the control of a faceless corporate entity. Debased, demeaned and stripped of the normal trappings of womanliness, Wood explores how each character responds. Particularly how, as the system begins to falter, nature begins to take the reins.
This novel asks lots of big questions. It asks us to consider why the collective is so inclined to kick a woman when she is down, why there is such distaste for the natural state of womanliness, and why the lure of baubles and pretty things can lead us to ignore danger when it is right in front of our eyes.
For these big questions, and the sheer enjoyment of Wood’s style, I highly recommend this novel.