For a legion of decades, veritably adventurous, optimistic and courageous, perhaps even naive, backpackers from a plethora of nations have temporarily migrated to Australia’s utopian shores. For most of these ebullient and high-spirited young people, their time in our midst is full of dream-like experiences that are drenched in joy and hope. For an unenviably ‘select’ few, however, the Australian dream holiday can morph unforseeably and corrosively into a ghoulish nightmare.
Such all-encompassingly noble and encouraging, yet also sobering and devastating truths, are significantly demonstrated in stellar Irish Australian (she migrated to Australia in 1995, having been born in Blarney, Co. Cork) author, Ber (B.M.) Carroll’s, latest sterling novel, The Other Side Of Her (a dark and twisty thriller).
Set in the idyllic environs of Newcastle and serene surrounds, the novel focuses on two sets of families, the Andersons and the Jenkins. Ryan (a forklift driver in Sydney) and Mia (a stay-at-home Mum) Anderson reside on a rural property, forty kilometres outside of Newcastle, near the small and stalwart town of Morisset. Ryan and Mia are the devoted and strictly regimented parents to ten year old Elliot. Elliot has been diagnosed with ADHD, thus Mia has been required to forcefully navigate medical care, schooling and strict routines for him. Now Elliot is exuberantly thriving in the heavily disciplined world he lives in (or is he?).
Ryan, Mia and Elliot are ardently trying to get on with their lives as best they can, in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy. Two years ago, their previous nanny, Tara McAllen (a nineteen year old Irish backpacker), was deemed to have drowned on Bondi beach, her clothes being found on the sandy enclave. Ryan and Mia were distraught at the time, but feel that life should be getting back to normalcy for their tight-knit and loving clan. Bewilderingly for Ryan and Mia, two years after Tara’s death, however, on a mundane Saturday morning, Detective Sergeant Amy Goodwin and Detective Senior Constable Martin Stavros are back at the Anderson’s place asking questions.
Living in suburban Newcastle is perennially financially struggling single mother Beth Jenkins (a massage therapist at Wellbeing and Sports Massage Therapy in Newcastle’s city centre), and her seven year old energetic daughter, Tilly. Two years previously, Beth left a toxic marriage, in which she was emotionally, mentally and financially abused. Kane (her ex-husband) has left her almost destitute, and Beth feels as if she is one breath away from financial ruin.
When Beth has a break-in at her place, she immediately suspects Kane. And when she has a litany of dubious, anger-inducing and frustrating occurrences (she has her handbag and car stolen) in her life she fretfully wonders if it is just back luck, Kane or something else entirely.
What is the terrible thing that connects the Andersons and the Jenkins? Why are Mia’s and Beth’s mothering instincts being so severely tested? Is Beth’s client, Charlie, at the clinic where she works boyfriend material? Why does he keep turning up to help her when she needs it most? Why is Tara’s mother, Siobhan, in Ireland so unwilling to let Tara’s case rest? Why is there now a one million dollar reward for information on Tara? Why are the police not willing to let the case go?
Ber has written a novel that on every page is endowed with class, intelligence, wisdom and discernment. The human psyche and condition (the strong ebbs and flows, the visceral strengths and weaknesses) are forensically examined and contemplated throughout The Other Side Of Her, to great effect. Bravo Ber! I found myself turning the pages faster and faster, the further I read on in this profoundly thought-inducing story. There are twists and turns aplenty, and the reader will find themselves alternatively shocked, stunned and vibrantly cheering. Ber has written a crackingly good novel, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next!
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