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…
***Thanks to NetGalley and HQ Fiction for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.
solid, good read:
Kim Lock has a gift for writing emotions so that the reader can feel them. Mercy’s fear and overwhelming anxiety were palpable throughout The Other Side of Beautiful and I found myself both identifying and empathising with her.
Lock perfectly captured the beauty and isolation of travelling across the Australian outback and the unavoidable (and righteous) fear Mercy often felt as a solo female traveller. I may not have driven from Adelaide to Darwin, but having driven solo from Hedland to Karijini National Park (and back), I had many of the same thoughts as Mercy, particularly when she had to park one night alone in a remote rest stop. From running through the famous serial killers preying on backpackers, to considering the dangers of kangaroos and stray cattle, and then trying not to think about what would happen if I had car trouble in an area with no mobile coverage, it can easily turn terrifying. And for me, that was just a day trip! I’m not sure I’d be capable of tackling Adelaide to Darwin on my own. Plus, road trains are no joke – I can’t imagine coping with one of them passing me. The absolute helplessness of being surrounded by red dirt and bush, knowing the next closest town is hundreds of kilometres away, and just hoping that everything goes to plan is a vivid reality in The Other Side of Beautiful.
A direct counterpart to the intense fear and anxiety, Andrew and the grey nomads lighten the story, bringing a sense of normalcy to Mercy’s crazy idea to just drive. I enjoyed the evolution of Mercy’s ability to interact and associate with first Andrew and then Burt and the other grey nomads as she distanced herself from Adelaide and her history. I found Mercy’s struggle with guilt and anxiety to be honest and relatable;
there’s no magical cure, and the story is left open-ended enough not to feel clichéd.
If nothing else, The Other Side of Beautiful will undoubtedly inspire a desire to traverse the outback (preferably with a copilot in a vehicle with working air conditioning), but there are many factors which made this a surprising and engaging read.
No matter how people fought it, or denied it, or outraged about it. Death happened. Birth happened. Life happened. It was as devastating, as transformative, and as simple as that.