The Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

The title alone captures attention. The other side of beautiful could be many things, and in her fourth novel, Kim Lock has suggested some with a deftly assured and sensitive touch.

Mercy Blain, a young woman in her thirties, has imprisoned herself in her home for two years, suffering crippling anxiety which manifests as agoraphobia. Clues are gradually revealed as to why, and in the process, Kim Lock has written a book that is enormously enjoyable.

The opening chapter is gripping. Mercy’s house is enveloped in flames and is quickly destroyed. A devastating event for anyone but, for Mercy, she has lost her safe haven which allowed her to hide from the world.

She solves her predicament by buying an ancient van, a Hijet, and with her dachshund, Wasabi, and little luggage and food, she sets off to escape by driving from Adelaide to Darwin. Mercy finds a box in the van and it contains cremated ashes! Whose is the mystery….

As the kilometres roll by, the Outback landscape becomes a significant part of the story. It is described so beautifully in all its variety that a reader can enjoy the journey without any discomfort; free from plagues of flies, searing heat, roaring road trains. It is a blissful trip for us, thanks to Mercy’s embarking on this venture.  The different caravan parks, grey nomads and the weather all bring an authentic touch in a warm-hearted amusing way.

A frisson arises with the interludes with the charming Scotsman, Andrew, in his hired 4WD. Their budding friendship is handled with gentle warmth, unspoiled by ‘happy endings’, but conveys a current of mutual attraction.

Tension shadows her progress when Mercy recognises a journalist who in some degree is responsible for her acute anxiety.

Eventually we learn Mercy is a paediatric surgeon. The book explores the reaction of a doctor who fails to save a patient. It highlights the damage social media can do and the effect journalism has when it has heartlessly pursued a sensational slant on an event.

Back in Adelaide, her soon-to-be ex-husband Eugene, is desperately trying to contact her – an inquest is looming. One of the most remarkable aspects of this book is how seemingly effortlessly Kim Lock has constructed the plot. There is the court impending, a dash to catch a flight, disposing of ashes, facing the journalist Ann Barker, Mercy’s disintegrated marriage. It is all smoothly connected in a way that never falters.

Not since Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and the Rosie Project series, has such a delightful book appeared. Kim Lock has written three other books but this latest shows she is a gifted writer who will bring pleasure to many readers. Its appeal is wide, with the stunning account of the central Australian landscape, the experience of living on the road, the people along the way.  It’s made more engaging by the mystery of the ashes in the box and of course, Mercy’s wrestling with her anxiety.

I have no reservations in highly endorsing this novel, which has so much to offer.

The Other Side of Beautiful

[2021]

by Kim Lock

Harper Collins

ISBN 978 186721 490 8

$32.99; 358pp

 

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