Publisher: Europa Editions. June 28, 2016.
ADD TO GOODREADS
BUY FROM INDIEBOUND
BUY FROM BOOK DEPOSITORY
Drugged, dressed in old-fashioned rags, and fiending for a cigarette, Yolanda wakes up in a barren room. Verla, a young woman who seems vaguely familiar, sits nearby. Down a hallway echoing loudly with the voices of mysterious men, in a stark compound deep in the Australian outback, other captive women are just coming to. Starved, sedated, the girls can't be sure of anything—except the painful episodes in their pasts that link them.
Charlotte Wood depicts a world where a woman's sexuality has become a weapon turned against her. The characters, each marked by their own public scandal, are silenced and shackled by a cruel system of corporate control and misogyny. In a Kafkaesque drag of days marked only by the increasing strangeness of their predicament, the fraught, surreal, and fierce reality of inhabiting a female body becomes frighteningly vivid.-Goodreads
I went into this book completely expecting to love it. It won the 2016 Stella Prize, a prize for Australian fiction & non-fiction written by women. I was more than ready to be blown away. So many people I trust rated this 4 to 5 stars. And, let's be real, it's completely in my wheelhouse. The best way I've heard it described is as "feminist horror." Women who have been involved in sexual scandals (mistresses, rape victims, etc.) are gathered up and taken to a range in the middle of nowhere where they're treated like animals basically. I'm so there for feminist allegory. I'm not squeamish about graphic stuff. And, still, this book did not completely work for me.
Wood's writing is quite good. I loved any description of the outback of Australia. But no matter how much I wanted to love this story, I felt like I was often pushing to continue it. It didn't feel especially compelling to me. And then there was the ending. I won't go into details, but I will just say that I'm totally fine with open endings! I don't need all the questions answered. But the whole time I was reading, I was waiting for a real wow moment that would turn it into a 5 star read for me and it never happened. Even if a novel is full of rich, important metaphors, it's still crucial to have a solid story that carries those metaphors. A story that keeps the reader reading and gives the metaphors context. The mystery about what exactly was going on was completely intriguing! But I didn't get the payoff I expected after all the build up. It's difficult to leave everything open and also be a metaphor heavy novel, because the points you're trying to make won't have enough support to leave a lasting impression on the reader. Surely, one of the main points made at the very end about what happens to the women involved in these events is important, but it wasn't a new idea for me. It was very much something I had thought about before. So if that was where the wow was, it didn't affect me in a strong way. Maybe it will for other readers.
Would it be said they were abandoned or taken, the way people said a girl was attacked, a woman was raped, this femaleness always at the center, as if womanhood itself were the cause of these things? As if the girls somehow, through the natural way of things, did it to themselves.
There are so many good moments in this book. I will never hear Adele's Rolling in the Deep and not think of this book. I'll also never see rabbits the same way again. A couple times, I was very very tense. The women in this book face a lot of depravity that might be hard for some to read. There aren't any graphic depictions of rape, though, so that's good! It's just sort of mentioned in passing a couple times. It was definitely less graphic of a book than I thought it would be going in, which was a nice surprise.
I'm glad that this book was written. There's a lot of anger to be had about the patriarchy and I'm glad we're having it openly. I'm glad a talented author like Charlotte Wood is getting readers. This is a way to create change. There was just a little too much hype for me with this book, and it fell a little flat. I still applaud Charlotte Wood and hope to read more of her novels in the future.
'What about this!' From Lydia: the Pavilion at Maroubra on a hot day, watching the surfers moving across that rich greeny ocean, a Skinny Dip in your hand, and a huge plate of fish and chips.
They groaned. Hot chips.
'And a hot guy!' yelled Barbs.
They murmured again, out of politeness, but it was the chips that stayed in the mind.