The epic in the everyday: Iris Lavell’s Elsewhere in Success

by S.A. Jones , February 25, 20131 Comment


It is always a delight to uncover a wonderful piece of debut fiction such as Iris Lavell’s Elsewhere in Success. This character-driven novel is about Harry and Louisa, two re-partnered baby boomers leading ordinary suburban lives in the suburb of Success in Western Australia. Louisa holds down a job in the public service that brings in the household’s money while the more free-wheeling Harry ‘runs’ a small business helping aspiring musicians. They walk their dog (Buster, featured adorably on the cover), garden and keep house. They could be you, your neighbour, the couple that you share the school run with.

But beneath this unprepossessing exterior are two people from whom the every-day extracts a super-human effort. Harry hasn’t quite outlived his teenage fecklessness and spends a good part of his time daydreaming about his ex-wife and the child he gave up for adoption. Louisa is a bereaved parent and a survivor of monstrous domestic violence. The passages where she reflects on her experience at the hands of her sadistic ex-husband, Victor, are acute and powerful. Lavell perfectly captures the bewilderment and fear of the abused partner, searching always for the ‘right’ way to behave that will make the violence stop:


Victor the lawmaker who created and recreated the rules so that she never knew what they were; who made sure that the ground was always moving with no shared meaning, no sense of predictability – unless it was the way her body invariably reacted against his; in pain; immobilised; and blocked off on every side as he enclosed her whole world.


Lavell walks a fine and difficult line with these characters. Louisa has a provoking passivity, even a morbid streak, while Harry is selfish and occasionally deluded. But Lavell keeps the reader – just! – in their corner. Her technique was to:


Overwrite and then pull back. I’d consider the characters to be fairly extreme, despite the quotidian setting…People are not always sensible or likeable, although there needs to be some saving grace in at least one of the characters for the reader to stick with the book.


The story is told in clean, uncluttered prose. It’s a quiet, unassuming approach without rhetorical flourish that works for this tale of what’s epic in the apparently anodyne. As a practicing psychologist, Lavell has a privileged access to the subterranean battles of ‘normal’ people, though she says that she had to ‘shake off’ her identity as a psychologist to write the book.


I tried not to write this novel as a psychologist…A psychologist needs to be very even-handed in working with people, caring and trustworthy…the writing I did as a psychologist was very dry and stilted, and taught me some bad habits from a literary point of view, and I had to unlearn these…unlike a psychologist, a novelist needs to take a position, even if that position is unfair…Otherwise it would be difficult to establish emotional engagement or investment in the process. In a way, I think a novel is best when it is unbalanced.


I’m a sucker for the ‘published against the odds’ narrative and Lavell fits that bill perfectly. So sure was she that the manuscript would never see print that she went to a workshop on dealing with rejection ‘in anticipation of my own failure.’


My feeling when I was in the process of writing the novel was that I would write it mainly as a way of learning the craft of working in this genre, and not worry too much if it wasn’t published…The next novel was going to be the more serious attempt at publication. I think this mindset gave me freedom to try things out more than I might if things had been more certain. The other important part of the process is that I had early manuscript assessments and Chris McLeod ended up mentoring me, and this made all the difference.


The agents Lavell approached weren’t interested in the manuscript and it’s to the credit of the Fremantle Press that they continue to read and publish fine unsolicited manuscripts such as this one.


S.A. Jones is the author of the novel Red Dress Walking. She holds a PhD in history from the University of Western Australia and currently works as a regulatory analyst.

  • Annabel Smith

    ‘a novelist needs to take a position, even if that position is unfair’ – interesting assertion.


Nathan Smith

Letting the Essays Do The Talking: Meghan Daum’s My Misspent Youth

In the introduction to her essay collection My Misspent Youth, Meghan Daum writes that as frank as her essays are, they ‘are not confessions’. The personal essay may have long defined Daum, but she is far from a ‘confessional writer’, a title she has long resisted. Read more »


Ilona Wallace

Between You & Me: The New Yorker’s Mary Norris on publishing, editing and insecurity

Mary Norris begins her chatty grammar guide and memoir, Between You & Me, by chronicling the odd jobs she held before she began working at the New Yorker in 1978. She delivered milk – awkwardly calling ‘Milkwoman!’ when she left bottles at each stop – and crashed the dairy truck. Read more »


Chad Parkhill

On judging the Most Underrated Book Award

The chair of the judging panel for the Most Underrated Book Award shares his observations on the award, what it means to be ‘underrated’, and the current landscape of Australian literary prizes. Read more »

ROSEANNE - On set in New York - 10/16/93 
Sara Gilbert (Darlene) on the ABC Television Network comedy "Roseanne". "Roseanne" is the story of a working class family struggling with life's essential problems.

Rebecca Shaw

Out of the Imaginary Closet: Fictional characters who should have been gay

When you are part of a group that isn’t portrayed in the same way (or only negatively, or not at all) you become desperate for that glimmer of recognition. Here are several characters that I loved as a young person, who became stand-ins for the openly lesbian characters I wanted to see so much. Read more »



Isn’t It Obvious: Queer representation in children’s television

For a non-binary gendered person, characters with diverse sexualities and genders are validating and rewarding. As a child, they could have offered integral touchstones for understanding my own gender, and provided context and validation for the ways in which I could exist in the world. Read more »


Rebecca Varcoe

In defence of professional cheerleading

My name is Rebecca and I’m a 26-year-old woman with a shameful secret, for which I refuse to be ashamed any longer. Today I want to confess my obsession and one true love, the subject of many rants and late-night tweeting frenzies: Cheerleading. American, All-Star Cheerleading. Read more »


Adam Rivett

Tell Me, Princess: The evolution of Disney’s princess songs

Two years ago today, Disney’s Frozen was unleashed upon the world. As far as rapacious corporate behemoths go, it’s one of the more appealing, and remains surprisingly resilient to repeat screenings. But at the heart of its achievement sits one indisputable melodic and cultural phenomenon: ‘Let It Go’. Read more »


James Tierney

Bodily Limits: An interview with Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film Suspiria suffered from a critical eclipse and a variety of censored prints, and was largely cherished in its original form by aficionados of the field. A reassessment has been building, something sure to be aided by the forthcoming publication of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ perceptive and elegantly written monograph. Read more »

je tu il elle 2

Eloise Ross

Existence as Minimalism: Remembering Chantal Akerman

Images of a young woman, emptying her small flat of furniture, blocking the window and sitting in the dark, still. Sitting on a mattress in a bare room, furiously writing letters with a pencil and watching the snow through the window. Meeting with a past lover and reuniting on-screen. I think about Chantal Akerman’s films more often than I can say. Read more »


Matilda Dixon-Smith

Family Matters: Please Like Me and the Aussie TV family

In a recent episode of Josh Thomas’s Please Like Me, the bouncy titles run over three little scenarios: Josh cooks dinner for his mate Tom and his boyfriend Arnold; his Mum cooks for her new housemate Hannah; and his Dad cooks for his wife, Mae. The three of them stir, sip wine and dance daggily around their kitchens in a neat metaphor for this season’s fantastic, cohesive new trajectory. Read more »



Isn’t It Obvious: Queer representation in children’s television

For a non-binary gendered person, characters with diverse sexualities and genders are validating and rewarding. As a child, they could have offered integral touchstones for understanding my own gender, and provided context and validation for the ways in which I could exist in the world. Read more »


Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »


Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Tom Conroy and Colin Friels in Mortido. Photo credit: Shane Reid

Jane Howard

A Shining Nightmare: Mortido‘s Sydney

Sydney is a city of shine and reflective surfaces. The glint of the harbour follows through to city high-rises clad in polished glass, bouncing off the wide windows of the mansions hugging the undulating land before it gives way to the impossibly deep and wide water. But this beauty that can betray the darkness of the city and its people. Read more »


Angela Meyer

Outrageous Fortune: Seeing Hamlet as a Cumberbitch

Jazz swells, hushing the audience, and the solid black gate of the theatre curtain opens. It reveals the lounging figure of Hamlet, playing a record, sniffing his father’s old jumper. But what I see first is not Hamlet: it is Benedict Cumberbatch. Read more »

kiss copy

Jane Howard

Great Aspirations: In the shadow of Patrick White

The text of The Aspirations of Daise Morrow is lifted directly from Patrick White’s short story ‘Down at the Dump’. It’s a wonderful thing to hear White’s judicious use of language; to understand the eyes through which he saw Australia; and to see an entire world of his creation brought to life in the theatre. Read more »