All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Other Side Of Beautiful by Kim Lock

on July 15, 2021

The Other Side Of Beautiful
Kim Lock
Harlequin AUS
2021, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}: 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…

Exquisite, tender and wry, this is a break-out novel about facing anxiety and embracing life from an extraordinary new talent.

This was a beautiful story!

I had a feeling I was going to enjoy this even before I read it because I knew someone that had read it and loved it and from what they said, I felt like it would contain a lot of things that I enjoy. Living in Melbourne, I spent a lot of last year in lockdown, and during that time I got into watching people living #vanlife on YouTube. So when I realised that this book contained a road trip up the centre of Australia with the main character in a van, I was pretty sure that it was definitely going to be something I would enjoy. But I didn’t just enjoy it for that.

Mercy Blain, the main character, hasn’t left her house for 2 years before it burns down and is considered to be uninhabitable. Although her ex-husband offers her a place to stay at his house, that for Mercy (and perhaps others) isn’t a workable situation and Mercy finds herself buying a van and just…..leaving. With Adelaide behind her she makes the decision to drive north all the way to Darwin, straight up the middle of Australia. It’s a popular route with “Grey Nomads” – retired singles and couples who have bought a caravan and are road trippin’ their way around the country.

But Mercy is reluctant to join the camaraderie that ensues at each overnight resting/camping spot. She has been living a very solitary lifestyle and even the thought of doing things that others find simple, such as buying groceries or filling up the vehicle with fuel, incite anxiety and high levels of stress. Interaction with people is the same and the more people it seems the more stress this brings. At first Mercy rejects any overtures of friendship, hiding in her van. The further she travels though, the more she seems to unfurl a little, and the trip brings about a way to face her demons, deal with the event that triggered this way of life for her. I adored some of the people she met along the way, particularly Bert, a retiree who is always looking to round Mercy up for “happy hour at ours, silver Cruiser and Jayco” and who doesn’t ever take it personally that Mercy doesn’t turn up. He continues to turn up at the same stops Mercy is at, continues to invite her and eventually Mercy, due to a few incidents, is drawn into the group and togetherness of people doing this trip, accepting of help when she needs it.

I loved being along for Mercy’s journey, all the up and down moments of it. Although Mercy flees in a moment of panic when she realises her house, her sanctuary, isn’t liveable anymore, it takes courage and bravery to keep going, especially when you’re someone who hasn’t been out of your house really, in two years. It involves having to interact with people, to deal with them face to face – can’t order everything online to your van! And it’s quite a trek to undertake on your own (with a dog for company), to drive from Adelaide to Darwin. There are often long stretches where there’s no fuel or place to stop, so sometimes planning is necessary. Mercy’s van is a character, not quite capable of the top speed on these outback roads, so she has to calculate for that too. I really enjoyed being along for the ride, as Mercy negotiates challenges and finds the courage to stand up for herself, as well as face what is coming back in Adelaide. I thought Mercy’s reactions to things that challenged her in the beginning were so well written, so believable. And as the story went on and I pieced together why she had not left her house in almost two years before the fire, I could understand.

I enjoyed every page of this – it definitely made me want to make this trip one day (although I fully admit I’m a bit of a princess, so I’m definitely going to need a more luxurious set up than the one Mercy had!). I appreciated the time and care taken to show Mercy’s struggles and how she tries to overcome them out of necessity and how she gains strength through her trip. You couldn’t help but cheer for Mercy with her every victory and hope for her with every kilometre. Kim Lock is a wonderful writer, who has definitely become an autoread for me.


Book #119 of 2021

The Other Side Of Beautiful is book #51 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

One response to “Review: The Other Side Of Beautiful by Kim Lock

  1. Lovely review and completely agree!

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