For a book with a beautiful, flowery cover this book was anything but light and pretty. If I had to describe this book in five words it would be “Female Lord of the Flies”. Two girls wake, drugged and confused on a remote property in outback Australia, kept in by a monstrous electric fence. They quickly learn that they aren’t the only women in this predicament, in fact eight other women join them in this misery. Why and how they got there isn’t yet clear but with a violent unbalanced minder and his offsider’s the girls are left terrified.
This book I found truly captivating and finished within 48 hours. The reasons for the girls imprisonment is a mystery that is slowly, yet not fully revealed. Part of the intrigue of this novel is that not everything is clearly explained even by the conclusion of the story and you are left to piece together your impression of what really happened. Who imprisoned the girls? And why? Wood has created a terrifying, vivid landscape that is where nightmares come from and has woven an intricate narrative around how the human spirit survives in high stress situations.
Each of the ten captive girls has their own method of protection from the physical and psychological torture that they have suddenly found themselves in. Each seems to have a different obsession to focus their energies upon in order to distract themselves from their pitiful situation. Some obsess over physical cleanliness (as much as you can wearing the same clothes day in day out over months with no sanitary products and hard labour), others find consolation in day to day activities such as stoking the fire and tending the cooking pot. Hallucinations and insane attachments to makeshift child toys keep the distractions interesting.
Verla and Yolande are the two protagonists of the novel. We learn some of their background leading to their current situation and find how different they are for each other. As vast as their differences are they develop a camaraderie helping each other through the harrowing situations also dealing with the trauma in their own unique ways. Yolande turns to the role of hunter, providing their girls and their captors with rabbit meat to survive. Vera slips into hallucinations and delusions to keep herself sane. At times you think they are almost the most sane of the group of imprisoned girls. Other times their decisions shock you, in particular the last ones we witness at the conclusion of the story.
This book will stay with you long after you finish reading the final pages. There is much to ponder within the conclusion of the story for the characters, as well as the larger themes of the book. In particular a current debate that even I have felt affecting me and my daily life. I give this book four of Verla’s magic mushrooms and urge you all to give this book a go and will leave you with a particularly strong passage from the book to contemplate.
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 girls somehow, through the natural way of things, did it to themselves. – Charlotte Wood