KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Books

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.




  • http://annabelsmith.tumblr.com/ Annabel Smith

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

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

theartofasking_image

Julia Tulloh

Living on fans: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Rather than enticing people to pay for music through marketing campaigns and radio play, Amanda Palmer is interested in connecting with her fans, becoming friends with them, and creating a system of exchange within the community that is formed. This means that art is not often payed for with money. Read more »

womeninclothes-600

Carody Culver

Closet Concerns: Women in Clothes

Women in Clothes wants to tell a more inclusive story, to reveal the pleasures, hang-ups and complexities that reside in the simple act of dressing ourselves, and to remind us that we don’t perform our style rituals in a vacuum. Read more »

4285342-3x4-700x933

Kylie Maslen

The Harp in the South and other stories I wasn’t taught at school

The classics I studied at school were certainly great works, but how relevant are these books to young Australians? Yes, they were valuable to study as examples of technical skill. But they were all by men, all white and all dead. Read more »

theartofasking_image

Julia Tulloh

Living on fans: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Rather than enticing people to pay for music through marketing campaigns and radio play, Amanda Palmer is interested in connecting with her fans, becoming friends with them, and creating a system of exchange within the community that is formed. This means that art is not often payed for with money. Read more »

Taypic

Julia Tulloh

Lovers, haters, and TaySway’s 1989

TaySway is a polariser: haters really hate her. The issue for many feminists and critics is that they simply don’t like Taylor’s version of authenticity, which happens to be embodied by a blonde, white, straight, American women from a reasonably privileged background. Read more »

15115828030_526f79c515_z

Julia Tulloh

The celebrity spokesperson phenomenon

What should we expect celebrity advocates to deliver? Emma Watson is not a full-time activist, but if she inspires young people to take an interest in gender equality, is that not a good thing? Read more »

Maps to the Stars

Rochelle Siemieonwicz

Monsters in Los Angeles: Maps to the Stars and Nightcrawler

Both Maps to the Stars and Nightcrawler are peopled by monsters who may look human, but are actually spiritually deformed and morally repugnant creatures of the most loathsome kind. The suggestion implicit in each of these thrillingly creepy stories is that these ‘freaks’ are born out of and adapted to the hellish spiritual landscape of LA. Read more »

WinterSleep-2-poster-450

Rochelle Siemienowicz

A matter of time: very long films

It’s a fatal moment for any film lover: that instant when you look away from the screen and check your watch, holding it up to the light to judge how much time is left before you can escape. A wince of pain as you realise there are still 40 minutes to go. Read more »

Whiplash-Damien-Chazelle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Whiplash: bloody fingers and broken drumsticks

Whiplash is one of the year’s most exciting and electrically charged films. Admittedly, that’s a large claim to make for a little movie about a New York music student, his abrasive teacher, and a whole lot of banging and yelling in band practice. Read more »

IMG_4309

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Patrons and gamemakers in the shadow of Gamergate

There is a lot to unpack about Gamergate, and a great deal more that isn’t at all worth taking seriously, but what the patronage pseudo-controversy has drawn attention to is the fact that there are potentially huge issues with moving to a model of monetary transactions in which our payments are increasingly networked and ‘social’. Read more »

ST_Ello_600

Connor Tomas O'Brien

The Rise of the High-Minded Startup

Ello’s manifesto is the key to understanding its relative success, and how it has managed to sign up hundreds of thousands of users despite offering a wafer-thin feature set. Read more »

6289302147_38e8035680_z

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Jacqui Lambie and the limits of Remix Culture

The combination of Google Image Search, Photoshop, and Facebook is a powerful one, providing web users with the ability to seek out swaths of copyrighted visual material, rip and manipulate these pictures so the original source is obscured, then share the freshly “remixed” images to a broad audience with no real fear of legal action. Read more »

Anne of Green Gables

Danielle Binks

Books that take you there: YA literary tourism

How has literary tourism taken on new dimensions and greater capitalism, thanks to youth literature – both old and new, book and film? Read more »

9781863956925

Danielle Binks

Mean girls, bullies and private school privilege: Alice Pung’s Laurinda

Alice Pung’s Laurinda is hard-edged satire cloaked in contemporary YA: exploring class dynamics, everyday racism and bullying. Read more »

9780062211194

Danielle Binks

Nepotism, bullying and stalking: When online reviews go bad

The tangible power author Kathleen Hale wields, evinced by her numerous connections and Guardian platform, enabled her continued harassment of her book’s 1-star reviewer. The vocal support and defence put forward by Hale’s influential friends and family appears to be a case of privilege feeding narcissism. Read more »

3827910256_89135334f0_z

Chad Parkhill

Who killed Amanda Palmer fandom?

Fans and consumers tend to avoid music made by people whose actions disagree with their moral compasses, and, conversely, to reward those whose actions align with them. But are they right to do so? Read more »

Taypic

Julia Tulloh

Lovers, haters, and TaySway’s 1989

TaySway is a polariser: haters really hate her. The issue for many feminists and critics is that they simply don’t like Taylor’s version of authenticity, which happens to be embodied by a blonde, white, straight, American women from a reasonably privileged background. Read more »

augie-march-havens-dumb-300x194

Sean Watson

Literal metaphors: Augie March’s Havens Dumb

Glenn Richards’ style of songwriting, which is heavily informed by poetry and history, is what has made Augie March’s work so distinctive. Australian indie music has a long association with literary allusions, but Augie March have never seemed merely referential. Read more »

Marry Me - Season Pilot

Stephanie Van Schilt

Happy Hangovers and False Starts: Happy Endings and Marry Me

Binging rarely ends well. Binge eating is how unwanted food babies happen. Binge drinking is how inhibitions and memories are erased. Binge-watching a TV show can take over your life. Which is exactly what happened a few years ago when I fell in love with Happy Endings. … Read more »

thecode_main-620x349

Stephanie Van Schilt

An obligation to be kind? Australian TV critics and The Code

When Margaret Pomeranz recently spoke out about the obligation of local film critics to support the Australian film industry, she generated an interesting conversation in the critical community. Are critics who discuss the small screen in the public sphere obligated to be critically kind in their local coverage? Read more »

bojack-horseman-exclusive-trailer-debut_bghe

Stephanie Van Schilt

Jerks, antiheroes and failed adulthood in You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman

In addition to both being really funny, two new US comedies – You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman – speak to a widely-held fear about what, exactly, constitutes ‘adulthood’. Read more »