The Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock was a delightful surprise. I particularly liked its lead, Mercy Blain. She’s in her mid thirties and well-established in her life and career, so relatable for me.
I’m loving the current trend of ‘normalising’ characters with quirks, phobias or mental health issues. Once upon a time it felt like they (we) were portrayed as victims or case-studies. Now their (our) idiosyncrasies and issues are merely part of who they (we) are. I commented in my recent review of Love Objects that I appreciated that the author, Emily Maguire, didn’t feel the need to rid her lead character of some of her obsessive (yet comforting-to-her) tendencies.
Here Mercy has become an agoraphobic – the result of a trifecta of things going badly in her life two years earlier. She’s barely left her house since but forced to do so when it burns down.
The Other Side of Beautiful
by Kim Lock
Published by Harlequin Australia: HQ Fiction
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
Meet Mercy Blain, whose house has just burnt down. Unfortunately for Mercy, this goes beyond the disaster it would be for most people: she hasn't been outside that house for two years now.
Flung out into the world she's been studiously ignoring, Mercy goes to the only place she can. Her not-quite-ex-husband Eugene's house. But it turns out she can't stay there, either.
And so begins Mercy's unwilling journey. After the chance purchase of a cult classic campervan (read tiny, old and smelly), with the company of her sausage dog, Wasabi, and a mysterious box of cremated remains, Mercy heads north from Adelaide to Darwin.
On the road, through badly timed breakdowns, gregarious troupes of grey nomads, and run-ins with a rogue adversary, Mercy's carefully constructed walls start crumbling. But what was Mercy hiding from in her house? And why is Eugene desperate to have her back in the city? They say you can't run forever...
I saw the movie Nomadland a month or two before I read this so I kept flashing back to that. The plot is very different and they’re at different stages in life, but both Mercy and Fern (the character in the movie played by Frances McDormand) are newbies to life on the road and adapting to the culture, the forced camaraderie, and its many challenges.
I found Nomadland depressing and felt like Fern was simply biding time until ‘the end’. Here however there’s a sense of Mercy escaping and making what could be a clichéd ‘journey’ to find herself. This is far from trite however. It’s beautifully told and deeply moving.
Certainly Mercy does her share of navel-gazing. She ponders the break-up of her marriage and her difficult relationship with her mother. And of course her previous work and all that awaits her return. But, there’s more of a sense of rediscovering who she was and recognising how she got there.
Another strength of this novel are the characters Mercy meets on the road. Through them Lock offers us some really interesting insights into human nature. The best and worst of it. Reflecting on the lives we’ve lived and those we aspire to live. Who we are and who we want to be.
In an introductory letter in the advance copy of the book Lock explains her own experience with anxiety and depression and through Mercy she offers valuable insight into anxiety and panic attacks.
This fear was the boiled-down bones, the sheer cliff face, the very bottom of the well. An indescribable terror at the very fact that you exist at all. A headlong plummeting sensation that consciousness is suddenly, exquisitely, unbearable. Cannot be endured for even another instant. But at that same time, an undeniable knowledge that you do exist. And therefore, to exist is agony. p 53
I adored this book. I fell into it and became lost. I would have been quite content to remain with Mercy and her new on-the-road family. The whole #vanlife thing is a bit of a fantasy of mine though I’m conscious that – like Mercy – it’s the escape and a perception of a minimalist-but-free life inside the van rather than what I’d discover outside that is of appeal.
The Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock was published in Australia by Harper Collins (Harlequin Australia) and will be available in July 2021.
I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.