Okay, I’m late to the party, but I’ve signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2013. This challenge is for anyone, as it says on their website, for ‘male, female, reader, writer, teacher, librarian, bookseller, publisher, Australian and non-Australian’.

I’ve enrolled for the Franklin level: to read ten books by Australian women writers and review at least six of them. Ten books in 7 ½ months – should be easy, shouldn’t it? I’m hoping that statement won’t return to haunt me in December.

As I’m a late-starter, I’m allowing myself a little cheat for my first review — I know, already cheating and I haven’t even started — and I’m posting a review I prepared earlier.

Iris Lavell’s debut novel, ‘Elsewhere in Success’ (Fremantle Press, 2013) is the story of two ordinary people, Harry and Louisa, Aussie battlers, struggling through their lives in contemporary suburban Australia. The story unfolds in seemingly inconsequential scenes of domestic life – watching the ANZAC service on TV, visits to their mothers, drinking too much at a winery. The novel starts slowly, and fleshes out more than progresses, although the action picks up in the last half.

Despite the fact that Harry and Louisa live together and care about each other, there’s not much deep connection happening. Both carry baggage from previous relationships, which neither is able to share with the other. Louisa is scarred by a violent marriage and fears betrayal of her dead son if she lets go of the past. Consequently, she won’t allow herself to open up and embrace life. Harry seems to be muddling his way through, buying Louisa a singing fish, playing darts and drinking beer in a mate’s shed, all the time trying not to think too much about his past and the daughter he doesn’t see.

As the story develops, the reader learns Louisa and Harry’s past histories, sees the tragedies they’ve overcome, the lessons they’ve learned and comes to understand the extraordinary strength they’ve needed just to survive.

By the end of the novel, I’d come to care about these characters, and respect them. It reminded me of when you meet someone for the first time, someone who isn’t remarkable in any way, but who, over time, you get to know and a friendship builds, and as you learn more about this person, you see there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye — behind their nondescript exterior is a survivor, someone who has had to stumble over the many obstacles that life has thrown their way, who has had to battle just to survive, and who is still standing. They’ll never win any accolades, but they’ve got grit and resilience and strength.

That’s how I felt about the characters in this book.

This novel is a subtle, thoughtful, and touching walk through two damaged characters’ lives, and one which ultimately ends in hope. Iris has managed to capture the essence of her characters, and through them, show us the essence of contemporary suburban Australia and the strength of the human spirit.


Favourite scene:

I have two: I laughed and cringed during the failed infidelity scene when Louisa’s ‘frenemy’, Carole, attempts to seduce a pathetic Harry; and I ached for Louisa during a powerfully described violent episode with her ex-husband, Victor.

Favourite character:

Despite his flaws, and he is so flawed, I loved Harry.

Favourite quote:

Has to be this one from Harry:

‘The way I see it is this — mateship is how society should be organised… men and women could mostly work and live separately and then come together for sex, family celebrations, and so on.’

 Harry, mate, you and I need to have a chat…

Elsewhere in Success‘, by Iris Lavell, Fremantle Press, $24.99.