May 15th 2010

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Henry Tax Review’s vicious attack on miners, families

FAMILIES: How Henry tax proposals will undermine families

EDITORIAL: Rudd to bankroll human rights activists

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Verdict on the Kevin Rudd experiment

FEDERALISM: Hawke, Howard and Abbott seek to curb states' powers

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Fault-lines widen in world's financial system

UNITED STATES: Is President Obama a real-life Manchurian candidate?

KOREAN PENINSULA: Torpedo attack suspected in mystery sinking

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: China and the West: war without guns

UNITED KINGDOM: Christianity criminalised in Britain

EDUCATION: Maths Online: the new resource for students, parents and home-schoolers

SOCIETY: How biotechnology affects the family

GENDER AND IDENTITY: Children with gender identity disorder

OPINION: America: the most generous nation on earth

Let's create new Australian states (letter)

Labor and Liberals on childcare (letter)

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Canadian province may scrap human rights tribunal; Lithuanian president told to support Baltic gay march; UK Lib Dems' secret support base - Muslims; Stalin's Ukrainian famine; Why the left can't stand Sarah Palin

BOOK REVIEW: KEYNES: The Return of the Master, by Robert Skidelsky


Books promotion page

THE WORLD BENEATH: A Novel, by Cate Kennedy

News Weekly, May 15, 2010

Satire on New Age spirituality

A Novel
by Cate Kennedy

(Melbourne: Scribe Publications)
Paperback: 352 pages
ISBN: 9781921372964
Rec. price: $32.95

Reviewed by Michael Daniel

Sophie is a 15-year-old teenager with "attitude". The novel commences with her scandalising her domineering single mother, Sandy, with the announcement that when she is 18 she will acquire a permanent tattoo.

In the early 1980s, Sophie's parents, Sandy and Rich, were protestors against Tasmania's Franklin River dam. They returned to the mainland to live in a small country town of Ayersville. They split up soon after Sophie was born, with Sandy raising the child.

Sophie's mother, like many of the other residents in the town, is heavily involved in pagan New Age spirituality and supplements her supporting parents' pension by crafting "hippie" jewellery.

A complication arises when Rich reappears and insists on taking his daughter, whom he hardly knows, on a hiking trip to Tasmania. Sandy reluctantly agrees, and then uses her daughter's absence as an opportunity to attend a "release the inner goddess" workshop.

In the weeks that follow, the protagonists in turn are forced to confront and re-examine their lives. Sandy realises that her daughter resents her because of the way she has imposed her New Age beliefs upon her. She has been overbearing towards Sophie, just as her own mother Janet had been overbearing towards her.

Sandy, for example, rejects the parallel between herself and the Greek goddess Hera, because this goddess sounds too much like her own mother. However, the reader will instantly recognise that the description is an apt one of Sandy. Similarly, during the hike, particularly when Rich and Sophie become lost, Rich is forced to acknowledge that he lacks the inner psychological strength which his daughter possesses.

The World Beneath is highly amusing and very hard to put down. Kennedy provides not only a suspenseful narrative, but also some priceless character vignettes.

Located somewhere on the spectrum between satire and sarcasm, this critique of contemporary society, particularly of the New Age movement, is both incisive and timely.

Although some people might dismiss Kennedy's characterisation of Sandy as a caricature, it has to be said that one does encounter from time to time New Age devotees very like Sandy.

Sandy, despite her modest economic circumstances, can still outlay considerable sums of money on New Age workshops and paraphernalia to help her "find herself".

However, the novel is essentially one of hope as the protagonists, one after the other, abandon their pretences. Furthermore, the reader is left with the impression that Sophie, representing the new generation, may not fall victim to the lifestyle choices and follies that have handicapped her parents.

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