Book Review: Elsewhere in Success

Elsewhere in Success
Iris Lavell
Fremantle Press

In a suburb called Success, what choice do we have but failure?  This is the central question asked by Iris Lavell's debut novel about two people who are both on their second marriages and trying their hardest not to dig up the past.

Harry and Louisa have had less than satisfactory experiences in life.  Harry married the woman of his dreams and had a baby with her, but maybe he was a little more like his father than he thought. He hasn't seen Yasamine or Bella in years, but as the book takes off he finds himself wondering, wishing, fantasising.  He's tried to be a better husband to Louisa than he was to Yasamine, but the tragedies in her past- the beatings she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband Victor and the guilt she feels over the death of her son Tom- make her difficult to reach.  These are two people who seemed determined to pick at their own scabs and wallow in misery.

Lavell's plot is both clever and rooted in a recognisable here and now by great detail and character development.  Despite this, I occasionally found it difficult to read for a number of reasons.  First, the scenes which were told as flashback appeared to be written with more vitality than those set in the present.  As soon as the scene was set, it was over.  While the focus of the novel was supposed to be on what comes after the trauma, rather than the trauma itself, I did find this a strange approach.  This is in the context of always being told that if the backstory is more interesting than the present, then maybe your story starts in the wrong place.

I had heard and read that the character of Louisa's therapist, Lucy was both unsympathetic and clever, but I read her a way to move the plot forward and incorporate a psychologist's perspective into the plot.  She was perhaps less 3D than the other characters. The use of the third person limited, present tense often made the writing difficult to wade through, as it had a distancing effect, making the action more passive.

What I did love about this book were the supporting characters.  Carole, Louisa's predatory and competitive best friend is a familiar figure in real life.  When she buys the Buddha at the winery, which is like a better version of the one Louisa and Harry got at the markets, I feel the seething sting of her one-upmanship, the way she is trying to prove that she is better than Louisa.  Adam, the young man who Harry rescues towards the end of the book makes only a brief appearance, but it is thanks to him that the novel can be neatly tied up, and the characters can learn about themselves.  And Buster.  Buster deserved a bigger role!  The man in the van served as an excellent motif and I can still imagine those scenes taking place in the street where I grew up.

I gave it three stars.