1437719821Char­lotte Wood’s new novel, a tale of bru­tal misog­yny set in the Aus­tralian out­back, is both riv­et­ting and, at times, almost painfully intense. Ten young women are drugged, impris­oned, and forced to toil at back­break­ing labor under the super­vi­sion of two men, one a not-​too-​bright yoga prac­ti­tioner (when he isn’t play­ing at prison guard), the other a sadist obsessed with which of the women he’d rape should his mys­te­ri­ous ‘boss’ give him the go-​ahead.

The reader soon learns that each of the cap­tives has some­how trans­gressed the soci­etal rules gov­ern­ing the proper con­duct for women, espe­cially in mat­ters sex­ual. One slept with a priest, another took part in an orgy, yet another had the mis­for­tune to be gang­banged. Wood focuses on two of the women, the brainy Verna, who tries to believe she is ‘dif­fer­ent’ and that her lover Andrew will even­tu­ally res­cue her, and the wily, phys­i­cally pow­er­ful Yolanda, who knows full well no one com­ing to save her and, over time, returns to a feral state, hunt­ing rab­bits and dream­ing of “push­ing her sharp teeth through the soft belly flesh of a zebra”.

Wood’s writ­ing is vivid and often lyri­cal, as when she describes a mag­i­cal inva­sion of hun­dreds of kan­ga­roos, who bound across the camp in ‘thump­ing syn­co­pa­tion” or a flock of cock­a­toos that resem­ble “white laun­dry on a line.” Even in scenes involv­ing great suf­fer­ing, both human and ani­mal, her prose often cap­tures a kind of tran­scen­dent beauty.

As pow­er­ful and dis­turb­ing as this novel is, how­ever, I must admit I found the end­ing dis­ap­point­ing. The image of the women swoon­ing over designer bags and lav­ish make-​up prod­ucts, items that were tro­phy pos­ses­sions in their old lives, rang false to me. On the other hand, given the soci­ety in which we live, I can see how oth­ers might find Wood’s end­ing not only shock­ing but utterly satisfying.

Def­i­nitely a book that needs to be read and dis­cussed by women and men alike.

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