BOOK REVIEW: News Weekly
THE WORLD BENEATH: A Novel, by Cate Kennedy
, May 15, 2010
Satire on New Age spirituality
THE WORLD BENEATH:
by Cate Kennedy
(Melbourne: Scribe Publications)
Paperback: 352 pages
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.