Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: Australian (page 1 of 8)

Reckoning – Magda Szubanski

Like a lot of Australian millennials, I grew up on Magda Szubanski’s comedy. I remember laughing out loud at her poor sad-sack character Sharon Strzelecki on Kath & Kim, I remember seething with jealousy when she made out with Heath Ledger on the red carpet, and then – most relevant to this review of her memoir – I remember watching in awe as she came out on live television in 2012. But despite all those years of watching, laughing, and cheering her along, it turns out I knew very little about Szubanski, as I learned when I read her memoir Reckoning.

Reckoning - Magda Szubanski - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Get Reckoning here.
(And I reckon you’re a superstar if you use an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase, supporting these reviews.)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Szubanski, here’s a quick run-down. She’s an Australian comedian, actress, advocate and (now) author, known for her comic characters and iconic roles like Esme Hoggett in Babe. In 2003 and 2004, surveys found that she was the most-recognised and well-liked Australian television personality. I doubt that many of those surveyed knew what they were getting with her 2015 memoir, Reckoning – I sure didn’t!

It has a killer opening line for starters – literally! “If you had met my father,” Szubanski writes on page one, “you would never, not for an instant, have thought he was an assassin.”

After a brief introduction to her father’s former profession, Szubanski takes us back to her childhood. She was born in England, to a Scottish-Irish mother and Polish father, immigrating to Australia as a child as her family searched for stable lives in sunnier climes. But, as she quickly reveals in Reckoning, moving to the bottom of the earth wasn’t far enough for her father to escape the ghosts of his past.

Szubanski Senior had been an assassin in the counter-intelligence branch of the Polish resistance movement during WWII. Szubanski grew up in the shadows of her father’s war-time violence, and his struggle to reconcile his traumatic past with his safe present. Her adolescence in particular got pretty dark, as she struggled to gain the approval of her mercurial patriarch while secretly coming to terms with her own sexuality (neither of which she truly achieved until decades later). In many ways, Reckoning is a memoir about a dual reckoning, happening simultaneously: with his past, and with her identity.

So, if you pick up Reckoning expecting your standard, relatively light-hearted, comedian memoir… yeah, you’re in for a rude shock. It’s a pensive, penetrating story, told without pretension and with radical vulnerability. Szubanski doesn’t shy away from sharing the least flattering aspects of her own past, personality or behaviour, nor does she redact her father’s historical violence.

Szubanski was widely lauded and acclaimed for her story, with Reckoning winning the Douglas Stuart Prize for Non Fiction, the ABIA Book Of The Year and Biography Of The Year, and the non-fiction prize for the New South Wales Premier’s Awards. Richard Ferguson, in a review for The Sydney Morning Herald, said: “This is documentary writing of the highest order and Szubanski has given life to an incredible war story… Reckoning [is a] tale of war and suburbia, sexuality and comedy.”

As far as I’m concerned, Reckoning offers compelling evidence for the theory of inherited trauma, even that which is unspoken in families affected. My only real criticism of the book is that I really could’ve done with a touch more of the brevity for which Szubanski is so beloved, just to break up the heart-wrenching hard truths of her life. That said, I understand why she didn’t write this book as A Comedian, writing instead from the heart of a daughter who loves her complicated father. While it didn’t offer ‘comic’ relief exactly, finishing the book on the high note of coming out in support of Australia’s marriage equality campaign ensured I closed the final chapter with a smile on my face.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Reckoning:

  • “Too self indulgent, storyline very moving but too much on being a lesbian. I love lesbians but not being one it seems I don’t understand how hard it is to come out.” – Patricia Eastley
  • “With warmth courage and honesty, with her pants full, it was not easy but it was worth it.” – Amazon Customer
  • “Magda seemed to spend a lot of time being depressed and writing about it.” – susan rickert
  • “I am enjoying it overall but am uncomfortable with the details regarding her sexuality. I am not convinced she is a lesbian.” – Amazon Customer

To The River – Vikki Wakefield

To The River - Vikki Wakefield - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy To The River here.
(affiliate link)

To The River begins with a convenient coincidence – a recently-divorced, newly-redundant journalist finds herself living next door to the last remaining family member of an accused murderer on the run. Rachel thinks that publishing the truth of what happened the night of the ‘Caravan Murders’, and the perpetrator’s daring escape, will revive her career and re-start her life.

Sabine, her subject, has her own reasons for finally coming out of the shadows to share her story. Their motives will collide, and the truth will be revealed – and it won’t be what anyone expects.

Intrigued? Me too, so I was super grateful to my friends at Text Publishing for sending me a copy for review.

I doubt the similarities are intentional, but To The River really reminded me of Sadie by Courtney Summers – but a more mature version of the story, told for grown-ups. It’s cleverly plotted and perfectly paced, building up to a denouement that doesn’t over-egg the pudding.

In addition to keeping the reader engaged and intrigued throughout this ‘whydunnit’ mystery, Wakefield also seems to have a singular talent for nature writing. It’s rare to find a book about a regional area – in this case, a fictional river town based on Australia’s Murray River – that truly captivates and immerses this city-slicker, but To The River is exemplary.

One last note (that I left ’til last because it’s possibly spoiler-y, but I know there are other readers out there like me who need to know before they pick up a book): the blurb mentions “a brave dog called Blue”, which made me nervous. Blue doesn’t have an easy time of things, and there is a rather sad description of his mother’s death in the early pages, but I’m happy to confirm that he does survive To The River and lives happily ever after. So, read on!

Buy To The River on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Read To The River on audiobook via here. (affiliate link)

10 Funny Books By Australian Authors

When you’re as committed to finding any excuse for a good laugh as I am, you’ll notice that different nations have very distinct styles when it comes to comedy. Being Australian, I’m particularly partial to the Aussie sense of humour, which tends to be a bit dry, a bit sarcastic, and a lot irreverent, with a heaping side of self-deprecation. Luckily, that’s a comedic genre that lends itself very well to the page. Here are ten funny books by Australian authors that have this Aussie reader’s stamp of approval.

10 Funny Books By Australian Authors - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
If you make a purchase through one of the affiliate links on this page, I’ll be laughing!

Naked Ambition by Robert Gott

Naked Ambition - Robert Gott - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Naked Ambition is a hilarious satire of Australian politics, skewering the egos of the privileged career politicians who make decisions about our lives (while making messes of their own). Gregory is an up-and-coming junior State minister who makes the misguided decision to pose for a full-length nude portrait. The eccentric artist who paints him decides to enter the finished work into the Archibald, Australia’s premiere art prize for portraiture, pretty much guaranteeing national exposure. Gregory is sure that everyone – the Premier, his mother, and his wife, included – will agree with this decision and admire his bold foray into the arts. He’s wrong. Read my full review of Naked Ambition here.

Mammoth by Chris Flynn

Mammoth - Chris Flynn - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The premise of Mammoth is bold, ludicrous even: thirteen thousand odd years of natural history narrated by the fossil of an American mammoth (Mammut americanum, though he goes by Mammut) in a New York museum. It sounds like it couldn’t work, it shouldn’t work… but it does. It reads as if Bill Bryson turned his hand to writing fiction, with a strong cast of supporting characters (i.e., other taxidermied specimens who can’t help but chime in on Mammut’s tale). It’s one for the eco-conscious and sentimental among us, who are (clearly) in dire need of a good laugh and a bit of optimism about the state of the world. Read my full review of Mammoth here.

The Speechwriter by Martin McKenzie-Murray

The Speechwriter - Martin McKenzie-Murray - Keeping Up With The Penguins

After the past few years, you’d be forgiven for thinking political satire is dead. The Speechwriter proves it isn’t so, and it’s one of the funniest books you’ll ever read in that category. It is styled as the prison memoir of Toby, former speechwriter to the PM and current inmate of Sunshine correctional facility. It is edited (with frequent footnote asides) from his murderous cellmate Garry. Together, they weave a tale so extraordinary you can’t help but believe it. The absurdity is unshakably familiar, but dialed up to eleven. Read my full review of The Speechwriter here.

Servo by David Goodwin

Servo - David Goodwin - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You ever hear the conceit of a new book and think, “I can’t believe no one’s written that yet”? Servo is a memoir by former console operator David Goodwin, “a six-year voyage of sex, drugs, and sausage rolls”. He recounts his time working the graveyard shift at a suburban Melbourne service station: the good, the bad, and the very, very weird. All the crazies come out at night, and some of the ones Goodwin encounters will have you wheezing. He seems to attract lunatics in his personal life as well as at work, so his friends (like the Hungarian champion shitter Stevo) are good for plenty of laughs, too. Read my full review of Servo here.

The Land Before Avocado by Richard Glover

The Land Before Avocado - Richard Glover - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’ve ever had the privilege of hearing Richard Glover spin a yarn, you’ll know that he can make anything funny – whether it’s his mother abandoning her family to run off with his English teacher, his failed attempt to establish a vineyard, or the price of pre-made take-away sandwiches. In The Land Before Avocado, he turns his focus and his pen to the Australia of yesteryear, peeling back the layers of nostalgia to reveal what it was really like growing up in the ’60s or ’70s. This book will have you howling with laughter when your jaw isn’t dropping in disbelief, and you’ll want to shove a copy into the hands of every Baby Boomer who moans about ‘how it used to be in their day’.

The Helpline by Katherine Collette

The Helpline - Katherine Collette - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Helpline is a charming and witty book, with an undeniably Australian sense of humour. Germaine is in her late thirties, she’s very good with numbers, she loves Soduku, and she avoids as much human interaction as possible. When she discovers the job market is very slim for senior mathematicians, she takes a job answering the Senior Citizens Help Line for the local council. Soon, she finds herself caught in a David and Goliath battle between the Mayor’s business interests and the plucky members of the local Senior Citizen’s Center – and rubbing shoulders with the very people she’s always shied away from. Read my full review of The Helpline here.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you like oddball characters, with personality quirks and impossible quests, you need to read The Rosie Project. The narrator is a genetics professor, Don Tillman. He’s never had much “luck” with women, which will come as no surprise when you discover that his proposed solution is to create a questionnaire to assess the suitability of each “potential mate”. Of course, it all goes to hell when he finds himself caught up in a project to find the biological father of a woman who ticks exactly none of the boxes. Read this one on audio to fully experience the Australian humour (it doesn’t always translate well on the page). Read my full review of The Rosie Project here.

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

Too Much Lip - Melissa Lucashenko - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Too Much Lip, on its face, sounds like a big ask of Australian author Melissa Lucashenko. How can you take all of the worst stereotypes of First Nations families – drinking, crime, welfare, violence – and give them texture? Make them compelling? Heck, make them funny? It’s a tall order, but she pulls it off. This book is a bla(c)k comedy that blends together ancient culture and contemporary injustice, an unlikely combination that is rarely found in award-winning literature. Readers from elsewhere might need a bit of context to fully appreciate this one, but those well-versed in Australian history and vernacular will love it. Read my full review of Too Much Lip here.

Green Dot by Madeleine Gray

Green Dot - Madeleine Gray - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Green Dot is full to the brim with dark, wry humour and it’s a must-read for anyone who’s ever been a directionless twenty-something. Hera is still living with her dad in Sydney and preemptively exhausted by the life of drudgery she expects to find in the workforce. Lacking any better options, she takes a job as an online comment moderator for a news publication. Things start looking up when an older male colleague catches her eye. When she finds out he’s married, it doesn’t put a dent in her plans to fall in love with him. This is Australia’s answer to Raven Leilani’s Luster, with the comedy dial pushed up. Read my full review of Green Dot here.

The Family Law by Benjamin Law

The Family Law - Benjamin Law - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Benjamin Law was born in Queensland in 1982, to immigrant parents from Hong Kong. The Family Law is his memoir, about what it was like to grow up in an Asian-Australian family in the heartland of Pauline Hanson and her ilk. It’s not a misery memoir, however – no sad laments, no tearful recollections of racially-motivated violence and oppression. This is a story of heart, humour, and hope told in a series of vignettes, a la David Sedaris. The humour is self-deprecating, colourful, occasionally scatalogical, and uniquely Australian. Read my full review of The Family Law here.

13+ Australian True Crime Books

I know Australia has a bit of a reputation, being full of snakes and spiders and other dangerous critters… but it’s not just the animals that want to kill you Down Under. Here’s a selection of Australian true crime books that might put you off visiting my home country forever (if the crocodiles and box jellyfish haven’t done that already).

13+ Australian True Crime Books - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper

The Arsonist - Chloe Hooper - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Every Australian was impacted, in some way, by the Black Saturday bushfires. It seemed to be a natural disaster on an unprecedented scale, the deadliest wildfires of Australia’s recorded history (180 people killed, hundreds more injured, and thousands of homes destroyed). Imagine, then, the stomach-dropping realisation that some of the fires were deliberately set. In The Arsonist, Chloe Hooper explores what might’ve led Brendan Sokaluk to light a fire in the LaTrobe Valley on a scorching hot day in February 2009. It sheds completely new light on what we all think we know and remember about that weekend, and the way we understand and investigate acts of arson. Read my full review of The Arsonist here.

Bonus: Hooper is probably better known for another Australian true crime book, The Tall Man, in which she investigates the death of Cameron Doomadgee in police custody.

Trace by Rachael Brown

Trace - Rachael Brown - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The unsolved murder of Maria James is a case that hits home particularly hard for Australian booklovers. The Melbourne mother of two was brutally stabbed in the flat behind her bookshop in 1980, and to this day no one has been charged with the crime. Rachel Brown initially investigated the case for a podcast, before putting together everything she had learned for a book by the same name, Trace. She very deliberately steers away from the “entertainment” aspect of the true crime genre, and spends a lot of time interrogating the ethics of what she’s doing. Ultimately, she decides that it’s the best – and maybe the only – way to generate public interest in the case, and with public interest comes jogged memories and heavy consciences that might just see the crime solved. Read my full review of Trace here.

The Teacher’s Pet by Hedley Thomas

The Teacher's Pet - Hedley Thomas - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Speaking of Australian true crime books that began as podcasts: even international listeners and readers will be familiar with The Teacher’s Pet, Hedley Thomas’s investigation into the disappearance (likely murder) of Lynette Dawson. The podcast was downloaded over 30 million times and made front-page news every time a new episode dropped, and now the whole story is laid out in this comprehensive book. It took forty years for Lynette’s murderer to be brought to justice, and it might never have happened if not for Thomas’s investigative journalism and incredible determination. Read my full review of The Teacher’s Pet here.

Carnage by Mark Dapin

When Australians re-watch or quote the viral arrest video for the thousandth time – “this is democracy manifest!”, “what is the charge? eating a meal? a succulent Chinese meal?” – they often forget the strange conflation of circumstances that saw Jack Karlson apprehended outside of a Fortitude Valley restaurant. Mark Dapin has, at long last, pieced it all together in Carnage. It’s an unusual Australian true crime book, in that it doesn’t center on the perpetrator of one terrible crime, but on a shadowy figure lurking in the background of many. As well as being the ripping yarn of one theatrical outlaw, it’s a de-facto history of organised crime in Australia from the 1960s to today.

Fake by Stephanie Wood

Fake - Stephanie Wood - Keeping Up With The Penguins

To be catfished is a uniquely modern phenomenon, enabled by the proliferation of dating apps and new levels of technological literacy that allow fake identities to be forged and verified online. At the same time, investigative journalists have never been more empowered to investigate the catfishers, and get to the heart of their motivations. Stephanie Wood fell in love with a former architect turned farmer, and the relationship only soured when he frequently cancelled their meet-ups and found flimsy excuses for her rightful concerns. In Fake, she discovers that the man she loved never actually existed, and she effectively exposes the dark underbelly of contemporary dating.

Larrimah by Kylie Stevenson & Caroline Graham

Larrimah - Caroline Graham and Kylie Stevenson - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’re looking for contemporary Australian true crime books that have classic Australiana vibes, look no further than Larrimah. It has all the elements: “a missing man, an eyeless croc and an outback town of 11 people who mostly hate each other”. The titular town is a remote outback settlement with nothing to see or do, and only the occasional journalist or filmmaker dropping by to try and solve one of the most bizarre missing persons cases in Australia’s living memory. Kylie Stevenson and Caroline Graham have given it the best go they can, and ultimately they’ve written a love letter to this town, one full of dark humour and a deeply Australian sensibility.

This House Of Grief by Helen Garner

This House Of Grief - Helen Garner - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Helen Garner has written some of the most iconic Australian true crime books of the past century, and This House Of Grief is arguably the best. Robert Farquharson’s crimes horrified the nation; in 2005, he drove off a Victorian road and into a dam, causing his three sons in the car with him to drown. It took seven years for the tragic case to make it through the court system, and Garner dutifully attended each hearing and motion, taking copious notes and leaning forward when most Australians chose to look away. The resulting true crime book is one of the most haunting and incredible narratives you’ll ever read, in any genre.

Bonus: Joe Cinque’s Consolation is another of Garner’s iconic Australian true crime books, covering the murder of a young man in Canberra by his girlfriend, and the culpability of one of their friends.

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

Eggshell Skull - Bri Lee - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Here’s one of the most intense and insightful Australian true crime books of the decade: Eggshell Skull. Bri Lee brings a unique perspective to the experience of sexual violence survivors in this country. She is a survivor herself, and also worked as a judge’s associate for over a year, sitting in on trial after trial on the regional court circuit, watching the wheels of justice turn over endless cases that mirrored her own. It’s one of the few true crime books that sits in the middle of the Venn diagram between the victim and the “justice” system, and it will forever change the way you think about how both perpetrators and victims are treated. Read my full review of Eggshell Skull here.

Shark Arm by Phillip Roope & Kevin Meagher

Shark Arm - Phillip Roope - Kevin Meagher - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The first line of Shark Arm sets it up beautifully: “On 25 April 1935, a 4.4 metre tiger shark – caught one week earlier off the coast of New South Wales – horrified onlookers at a Sydney aquarium when it vomited up a human arm.” The “shark arm”, as it obviously became known, led police down a rabbit hole of smuggling, insurance fraud, and – not one, but two – grisly murders. This is one of the most bizarre and unlikely Australian true crime books, one that turns every stone in an attempt to get to the truth of the decades-old cold case. Read my full review of Shark Arm here.

Reasonable Doubt by Xanthe Mallett

Reasonable Doubt - Xanthe Mallett - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Of all the Australian true crime books out there, very few focus on wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice. Dr Xanthé Mallet, internationally-renowned forensic scientist and criminologist, sets out to restore the balance and shine a spotlight on this neglected issue in Reasonable Doubt. She uses a series of Australian case studies to explore the systemic failures of our criminal justice system, with a focus on the factors of a case that increase the likelihood of a wrongful conviction. By examining how and why miscarriages of justice occur, Mallett reveals opportunities for us to avoid them, and highlights the importance of making adequate restitution where they do occur. Read my full review of Reasonable Doubt here.

CSI Told You Lies by Meshel Laurie

CSI Told You Lies - Meshel Laurie - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Have you ever heard about a true crime case and thought “why don’t the police just…?” or “if I were on the jury, I would…?”. You might’ve fallen victim to the CSI Effect, the unrealistic expectations the general public have of forensic pathology based on that TV show and others like it. In CSI Told You Lies, Meshel Laurie offers the facts to try and counteract those false perceptions. Her approach makes this book a de-facto collection of Australian true crime stories told from a different perspective, that of the forensic pathologists who make it possible to identify and prosecute perpetrators of violent crime. Read my full review of CSI Told You Lies here.

Missing, Presumed Dead by Mark Tedeschi

Missing, Presumed Dead - Mark Tedeschi - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Dorothy Davis and Kerry Whelan came from opposite sides of Sydney. They were both (very) comfortably middle class, but other than that they had little in common. They ran in different circles, they had different hobbies, they never met. So, how did they both vanish without a trace, never to be seen again? Mark Tedeschi’s Missing, Presumed Dead unspools this tangled web. Tedeschi was the Crown Prosecutor in both cases, so he’s able to provide a lot of insight into the cases and, in so doing, he dispels a lot of damaging myths – like the assumption that a solid case can’t be built on circumstantial evidence, or that the absence of a body means a perpetrator can’t be convicted of homicide. Read my full review of Missing, Presumed Dead here.

Whiteley On Trial by Gabriella Coslovich

Whiteley On Trial - Gabriella Coslovich - Keeping Up With The Penguins

When you think of Australian true crime books, you’d be forgiven for thinking mostly of grisly murders and mysterious disappearances. Whiteley On Trial looks at a major crime of a different type altogether, but one no less fascinating: the biggest case of alleged art fraud to ever come before the Australian criminal justice system. Two men were found guilty of faking artworks by gifted Australian artist Brett Whiteley, only to be acquitted a year later by the appeal bench. The artworks were returned to their owners, with a giant question mark hanging over them – are they fakes, or are they the real deal?

The Natural Way Of Things – Charlotte Wood

The Weekend is one of my all-time favourite books, but even I can acknowledge that The Natural Way Of Things is the book for which Charlotte Wood is better known. It was released in 2015 to massive popular and critical acclaim here in Australia, and it won the Stella Prize the following year.

The Natural Way Of Things - Charlotte Wood - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Get The Natural Way Of Things here.
(Affiliate links might seem unnatural, but I swear they’re not – it’s just a way to support this page when you make a purchase.)

The Natural Way Of Things is told in three parts, across nine months (Summer, Autumn, and Winter). It begins with Yolanda waking up “in the middle of absolutely fucking nowhere”. She doesn’t realise, at first, that nine other women are in the exact same situation. They’re disoriented, drugged, and shuffled between holding cells. When their gaolers emerge, they shave the women’s heads and dress them in scratchy parochial outfits, complete with perspective-limiting bonnets.

If you’re catching a whiff of The Handmaid’s Tale there, you’re not the only one. I suspect it’s a deliberate homage, as The Natural Way Of Things tackles a lot of the same themes and ideas as Margaret Atwood’s iconic feminist dystopia. It’s different, though, in the sense that Wood doesn’t require us to imagine any kind of societal collapse or fertility crisis to make her scenario a reality. What happens to Yolanda and Verla and co. could be happening in our world, right now (some might argue a version of it is).

These women have been abducted, imprisoned, and abandoned because they were all involved in some kind of sexual scandal. Wood offers just enough to give us the “gist” (the political staffer who had an affair with her boss, the footballer’s girlfriend who was sexually assaulted by his friends, the church girl who was abused by a priest), without any gory exposition of the incidents. They’re almost beside the point: any woman could be these women, their stories are all too familiar. They are being punished for the sin of womanhood.

In the days to come she will learn what she is, what they all are. That they are the minister’s-little-travel-tramp and that-Skype-slut and the yuck-ugly-dog from the cruise ship; they are pig-on-a-spit and big-red-box, moll-number-twelve and bogan-gold-digger-gangbang-slut. They are what happens when you don’t keep your fucking fat slag’s mouth shut.

The Natural Way Of Things (Page 69)

As if that isn’t horrifying enough, The Natural Way Of Things is set in a remote and derelict sheep-shearing station, somewhere in the Australian outback. They are completely cut off from the world (no internet, no phones, not even an operational fax machine). They’re kept within the boundary by a giant electrified fence. This is enough to strike fear in the heart of any city rat – I know it made me shudder.

And so, a lot of the punishments these women face are natural ones: the heat, the isolation, the wear and tear of bush life. There are also cruel twists of fate; the one that really fucked me up was the box of tampons that was only discovered in a storage shed after the women had been bleeding through their skirts for months.

At first, the women – and their guards, come to that – hold onto hope that this is a temporary situation. Either they will be “rescued” by their families or their lovers, or they will serve their time and be released, free to return to their “normal” lives. As the months pass, and supplies dwindle, the reality of their dire situation starts to hit home – for the reader, too.

Would it be said, they ‘disappeared’, ‘were lost’? 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 centre, 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.

The Natural Way Of Things (Page 223)

In many respects, The Natural Way Of Things is a level-up on feminist dystopia or psychological thriller – it tips the scales into outright horror. There are scenes and realisations that literally made me recoil as I read them. I found it really hard to “shake” this one, for days after I turned the final page. If there was ever a book that required a palate cleanser right after, this is it.

I couldn’t help but think back to a news story I read years ago, about 5,000 copies of The Natural Way Of Things being distributed to every student and staff member at the University Of Canberra. They call it the “UC Book Of The Year” and it is required reading for every single undergrad. Having read it now, I kind of feel for those students – I can see why the university would want to put the ramifications of sexual violence front of mind, but it feels like a bit of a baptism of fire.

Wood is a masterful writer, at the top of her game in this one, so The Natural Way Of Things is a fantastic read – but it’s also traumatic and difficult and fascinating and provoking and nuanced and scary and gut-wrenching. Make of that what you will!

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Natural Way Of Things:

  • “This has to be, without doubt, one of the worst books I have had the misfortune to read in a very long time. I read to the end in the vain hope that it might improve – it didn’t – and felt soiled. There is no plot or characterization, only a series of defilements that leave one astonished at the cesspool of a mind that vomited out such a succession of ugly scenes, with no connection to one another. One star only because a star rating required to submit the review. Avoid this one like the plague.” – Anne Greiner
  • “This has to be the single worst book I’ve ever read in my life. It’s 12:30am right now, but I felt the need to open up my computer and write this before I went to bed. I just finished this book and it was awful. No plot, horrible character development, and 300+ pages of nothing happening. Am I supposed to believe that it’s a moral struggle to eat rabbit when you’re starving? This book went absolutely nowhere and served no purpose. I would recommend any other book over this. Seriously, a dictionary would be a better choice.” – SMITH
  • “Sickeningly believable premise, which I think must lead to the negative reviews.” – S.E. Vhay
  • “Miss Wood can write and win awards but I don’t watch horror films and this was one. Why take the reader into such hideous bestiality? Could she not make her point without a broken jaw causing starvation and suppurating lesions? At that scene I flipped to the back page only to discover that our protagonist escaped on that same last page and may not survive even then. I closed the book. It will not find space on my shelf. I do not willingly jump into the cesspool” – Amazon Customer
« Older posts