Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 25, 2021

The Other Side of Beautiful, by Kim Lock

If anything in this review raises issues for you, help is available at Beyond Blue.


Reading this amusing escapist novel reminded me of the times when work was really getting me down and the daily morning commute offered the strong temptation to abandon it.  As I was approaching the intersection of Heatherton Rd and the Monash Freeway, I would consider the ease with which I could simply turn east onto that freeway (which eventually becomes the Princes Highway) and abandon ship.  #HaveCreditCardCanTravel: I could just keep going.  Beyond the outer suburbs, beyond the satellite towns, past Sale and Bairnsdale and Mallacoota.  Over the border along the Sapphire Coast to Merimbula and then see where a road that bypasses Sydney might take me.  The wonder is that I never actually did it because it was more than a fantasy.

The central character of The Other Side of Beautiful does what I was tempted to do, though in entirely different circumstances.  Mercy has had a horror experience at work; she has been lambasted by social media; she is grieving a fraught relationship with her mother; her husband has turned out to be gay; and her house has burnt down, leaving her with nowhere to go. And despite the emotional paralysis and the panic attacks which have kept her a virtual prisoner in her own home, she abandons all of it to go on a road trip from Adelaide to Darwin.  Not in a well-equipped 4WD but rather in a battered old campervan and with only her Dachshund Wasabi for company.

As we all know, the road from Adelaide to Darwin is fraught with perils and anyone intending to take it is advised to be well-prepared because the Australian Outback is no place for the naïve.  But as it turns out, the greatest peril that Mercy encounters is the horrible journalist who used social media to make her life a misery.   Along the way, she meets grey nomads and other travellers — including one who is handsome and gorgeous and knows how to do emergency repairs but is not a love interest because Mercy is too fragile for anything other than tentative friendship at this stage.

It is escapism, and it’s often funny, but it’s entertainment with a serious side in the sense that the author deftly portrays the disabling effects of anxiety and the pressure that can bedevil a high achiever.

I did like the portrayal of Wasabi.  (I’ve had two Dachshunds, both of them imaginatively called Gretel.)  But see how perceptively the author alludes to the punishing workload of medical interns here, and moves on to the character’s loneliness and her need for love:

She’d bought him just before she started her internship, naïvely thinking that the end of med school signalled the beginning of control over her own life.  Maybe a cat would have been a better choice, Mercy thought to herself in the early days, coming home in the bleary dawn after night shift to an avalanche of exploded paper up and down the hallway.  Or even a goldfish, she had thought, walking an excitable, yapping, twisting Dachshund in the dark streets at two am before work.

But Mercy had gotten Wasabi for the same reason anyone gets a puppy: because they embody happiness.  Their fuzzy little faces are gorgeous and irresistible. Their love is unconditional. And no matter how long Mercy was gone, no matter how wrecked she was when she came home, no matter how she had snapped at him or even ignored him, Wasabi was always there.  He never blamed her, never criticised her, never expected her to actualise him.  Always wagging his tail.  Always happy to curl up on her lap and be petted for as long as Mercy needed. (p.178)

You can find out more about the author at her website. 

Jennifer at Tasmanian Bibliophile at Large and Theresa at Theresa Smith Writes reviewed it too.

Author: Kim Lock
Title: The Other Side of Beautiful
Publisher: HQ Fiction (Harlequin, Harper Collins), 2021
Cover design: Christa Moffitt, Christabella Designs
ISBN: 9781867214908, pbk., 350 pages
Source: Bayside Library


Responses

  1. I’m glad to see you enjoyed this one. Thanks for the mention of my review too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Difficult to avoid Sydney once you’ve started up the east coast, but interesting to think about. I’ve done bits of it – Macquarrie Pass behind Wollongong; some sort of back road from Narellan to Bathurst; then around/through the mountains to the Putty Way and Maitland, Newcastle.

    The escape route that Mercy chooses reminds me of Eve Sallis’ Hiam.

    Like

    • Hi Bill, I’ve read Hiam, and I can’t remember a thing about it.
      *pause, looks in reading journal*
      Ah yes: “goes on unplanned journey north to Darwin on quest to resolve her demons”.
      What else did I think? “After unconvincing suicide of Masoud, much more likely he’d have done an “honour killing” than killed himself”, I thought, but made allowances for it being a first novel.
      Interesting… I’d forgotten when I reviewed The Last Garden that a traumatic suicide featured in Hiam too.

      Like

  3. Sounds just the right book for Melbourne lockdowns. I need some mental escapism. When you mention Heatherton road it brought back the memory of our 40 years in Dandenong. Did you teach out there? We are now on the Mornington Peninsula. My daughter is in Spotswood. I sit at Canadian Bay with a cappuccino and mentally communicate with her. Wondering when can I catch up with her and her lively four year daughter.

    Like

    • Hi Patricia, it was further than that, but I did drive through Dandenong every day. In the Kennett era it was a good idea to be teaching in large schools, and they were all in the outer suburbs. I had multiple job offers because I had a rare skill in primary teaching: I could teach Indonesian, and the most congenial (I thought) was in Endeavour Hills. Loved the kids, the grownups not so much.
      Canadian Bay is a nice spot to sit out the lockdown! Wineries on the peninsula are favourites for birthday lunches:)

      Like

  4. It sounds entertaining, and if I’d had as many life crises hitting me at once I’d be off. The temptation to ditch everything and go hit me many times during the pandemic, but alas I don’t drive….

    Like

    • I sometimes wonder if I would drive at all if I lived in the UK or Europe. We made the mistake of hiring a car only once on our holidays, it’s so much easier to get round on public transport.
      But our Australian cities aren’t designed for the carless. I hardly ever use my car now that I’m retired because, except for language classes in other suburbs, I shop and socialise locally in my own urban village. But if I want to get out of the city or even just cross to the other side of it to see The Offspring, then a car is essential.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. […] place to live.  Reading our literature can take you anywhere.  Kim Lock’s road novel The Other Side of Beautiful takes the reader south from Adelaide to Darwin in the north while No One, by John Hughes unravels […]

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  6. This sounds really entertaining. I’ve definitely had that fantasy on the commute. I don’t drive but squeezing into an overcrowded, overheated tube carriage was an awful way to spend two hours every working day. Very glad that is behind me – I don’t think we’ll be returning to office work now.

    Like

    • Yes, there’s going to be big changes in work patterns, I think. We’re all learning the hard way about what really matters to us and in some cases, the pandemic has offered options that weren’t there before.

      Liked by 1 person


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