Title: The Other Side of Beautiful
Author: Kim Lock
Published: July 7th 2021
Publisher: HQ Fiction – AU
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
Lost & Found meets The Rosie Project in a stunning break-out novel where a vulnerable misfit is forced to re-engage with the world, despite her best efforts.
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.
‘The air was dry and war. Birds screeched. The last of the cloud had burnt off and the sky was a smooth pale blue, the afternoon sunlight coming in bright ribbons through the leaves. Maybe, she thought, in another life-one without existential terror-it could be beautiful.’
I would give The Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock five big stars just for the cute canine companion in this tale, Wasabi. As a proud sausage dog owner, it was great to see my favourite breed featured heavily and accurately in a book. Sausage dogs aside, I have to say that Kim Lock’s latest is just amazing. I have a huge glowing report to deliver in this review! The Other Side of Beautiful is a story of life, loss, grief, trauma, health, wellbeing, anxiety, acceptance, travel, friendships, recovering and starting over. It is poignant, moving and oh so splendid.
Mercy Blain is a woman who suffers from a major setback when her home burns down. For this two-year agoraphobic, this latest disaster sends her in a spin. Mercy is forced to take refuge with her ex-husband, but Mercy knows she cannot make this her permanent residence. This situation influences Mercy’s snap decision to buy an old campervan. Mercy sets off on an adventure that will see her travel north of her Adelaide home, to the top end. With her lovable sausage dog Wasabi in tow, along with a set of ashes that came with the campervan, Mercy bravely takes on this road adventure to Darwin. Along the way Mercy encounters mechanical problems, unexpected friends, foes and some breathtaking landscape. In getting back to the raw and simple things in life, Mercy begins to develop a changed world view. But a call back to the city forces Mercy to put an end to her road trip. Mercy must confront her past to move on with her future in The Other Side of Beautiful.
Kim Lock made quite the impression on me back in 2018 when I interviewed the talented writer for the release of her novel at the time, The Three of Us. After reading The Three of Us swiftly after our interview, I noted that Lock produced a rousing novel that was able to strike at the very core of human relationships. On a similar note, Lock’s latest release is another striking novel that delves into the human psyche. Exposing the effects of grief, trauma and crippling anxiety, The Other Side of Beautiful is an eloquent tale that will speak for many readers out there.
It is extremely brave for an author to bare their soul and infuse some of their own experiences in written form. In the case of The Other Side of Beautiful, Kim Lock injects her direct and first-hand experiences of mental health into her latest novel. Although The Other Side of Beautiful is a fictional presentation of a woman’s experiences of fear and anxiety, there is a strong sense of realism to this story. I’m sure many readers will be able to relate to this embracing slice of fiction, inspired by real life experiences. Lock’s approach to her lead’s anxiety issues is knowing, intuitive, informative, insightful and sensitive. Lock provides us with an deep insight into the pure terror, strong emotions and rollercoaster feelings of a person who suffers from anxiety. I appreciated Mercy’s reflections on many facets of life in general and her personal experiences as the novel progressed, it helped me to better understand the devastating impact of anxiety. The Other Side of Beautiful is described by the publisher as a ‘break-out novel’ and I honestly feel as though we need more stories out in the publishing realm like Lock’s latest to help us better understand mental health issues.
I really loved the structure of The Other Side of Beautiful. This unforgettable story is relayed over forty-five engrossing chapters and it also features a countdown in distance travelled from Mercy’s starting point in Adelaide, through to her journey on a whim to Darwin. Along the way we receive distance checkpoint updates, which works to provide the reader with a sense of anticipation for what is to come, but it also gives us a sense of the sheer length of this road adventure. I also loved the side cast of this tale, from the whacky grey nomad caravanners, to other loveable fellow travellers and of course my favourite by far of the lot, dear Wasabi, Mercy’s animal travel companion. What struck me about the people Mercy encountered on her road trip was their kindness, generosity and embracing attitude. Although I was fearful like Mercy of the possible stranger danger situation, the people Mercy meets on her travels offer one big gulp of fresh air thanks to their entertaining and quirky ways!
With a stunning and iconic map preceding the story, this image spread sets the tone for this unforgettable page-based adventure. I would love to be as fearless and brave as Mercy, purchasing a van to take on a road trip of a lifetime! I would also dearly love to travel to both Adelaide and Darwin, visiting some of the picturesque sites Mercy encounters along the way. Many of the locales featured in The Other Side of Beautiful took my breath away thanks to Kim Lock’s situational prose. I promise after reading this book, you will be enticed to book your own Australian road trip.
What I appreciated the most about The Other Side of Beautiful was the subtle written message about the power of the damaged human spirit to heal thanks to the landscape, fresh air and open roads. Although Mercy is a fragile woman when we meet her, unable to step any further than her own backyard, she takes on an experience that would test any individual. I enjoyed the transition Mercy makes from a vulnerable, fragile and lost individual full of doubt, to a woman who learns to embrace life again. We can all learn something from Mercy’s dash across the outback.
Redolent, compassionate, heartfelt and accepting, The Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock is fully deserving of a five-star rating, sitting firmly on my list of exceptional and all time favourite reads of 2021.
The Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock was published on 7th July 2021 by HQ Fiction – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Other Side of Beautiful, Kim Lock, visit here.
*I wish to thank Harlequin Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Other Side of Beautiful is book #66 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge