It's all so damn relevant. The women in The Natural Way of Things could be real. They could be plucked out of the last month's newspapers, or the month before that, or before that. There are always fresh crops of women available for public persecution.
In the very few weeks since I've read The Natural Way of Things multiple women have come forward about the predatory behaviour of a man prominent in the NZ music scene, numerous people are defending him, friends of Facebook friends write it would be interesting to hear the other side of the story. There's been an Auckland court case about inappropriate sports massages involving teenage girls, hotly denied by the coach involved; Monica Lewinsky is being derided as ugly; and a woman has won a decades long battle to see the Catholic priest that abused her sent to jail. The church knew and hadn't told.
Verla looks around the table then. Despite the shaven skulls, one by one the girls' faces clarify for an instant--and then merge, and Verla knows that she and they are in some dreadful way connected.
The particular prison Wood writes of is fiction, but the experience of women in society, taught to validate themselves and each other based on their ability to attract men, the indecency with which men treat them, and the quick cruelty of society in assessing women's willing or unwilling sexual engagement with men is not invented. There's nothing new here, Wood just wrote it down.
And in TNWOT, it's not just an anonymous public, or Facebook comments or men that hold the women in contempt. The women in the prison judge each other with little compassion. They're cruel and absorb uncritically the ideas that others hold of them. I wonder if this is what Charlotte Wood meant when she said she did not intend to write a good feminist novel. The women are implicated, brave and brilliant in other respects, but they go with it, fanning quite pure hatred of each other. This feels brutal and real and true. Hetty, the cardinal's girl cops the worst of it.
What the cardinal had seen close up, Verla knows now, was Hetty’s wet red mouth, the coarse black eyebrows, potent with some ferocious carnality. He saw what Verla could see now, that Hetty was a little muscled dog that knew how to bite, and how to indiscriminately fuck. If she were a male the pink crayon of her dick would be always out.
(C) Copyright 2012, Mrs Loolupants, All Rights Reserved.