Sunday 7 December 2014

The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower

Oh me, oh my!

What a seductive, chilling, creepy, psychological family drama this is.

Set in Sydney during the 1930's and 40's, The Watch Tower follows the young lives of Laura & Clare.
Orphaned when first their father dies. Then abandoned by their incredibly selfish, self-absorbed, negligent mother who leaves them to go off & do her own thing.
But not before she wrecks havoc on her children's emotional lives.

Laura is left always trying to make amends and be the responsible, reliable one. Clare just wants to disappear within herself and avoid all relationships to keep from getting hurt & being disappointed.

Two such lonely, unloved, isolated young women were almost fated to be taken advantage of again.

Enter stage left - Felix.

Laura's enigmatic, much older boss.
Felix - who promises to marry Laura and look after Clare when their mother takes off.

Nowadays we are all conversant with psychological & emotional abuse; we know about alcoholics, personality disorders and control freaks. It is also quite likely that Felix had frustrated homosexual tendencies.

Whatever the disorder or syndrome or illness, Felix slowly, cruelly wears the two sisters down. His hostility, deceits, self-justifications, denials & irrational caprices are as relentless as they are predictable.

Laura is too embedded into this way of life to see a way out, but Clare finds ways to fight back.

It is Clare that provides the hope in this desperate story.

First published in 1966, Harrower writes an engrossing, enraging story.
Firmly rooted in the quiet, leafy Lower North Shore suburbs of Sydney, Harrower reveals what goes on behind (some) closed doors.

I can't wait to dive into Harrower's other books - Down in the City, The Long Prospect, The Catherine Wheel & In Certain Circles.

Highly recommended for lovers of deftly written character studies.


  1. Anonymous7/12/14

    I have never heard of Elizabeth Harrower but this does sound like a chilling creepy read. Great review.

  2. I've never heard of her either...maybe an Aussie thing (by which I mean maybe a Yankee thing of often ignoring the rest of the world). You've tempted me with it, but....just too much in the TBR to get to it anytime soon.

    1. Not at all - I only first heard about Harrower a few years ago, when another Aussie author I respected, mentioned this book as one of her turning points in embracing Australian literature.

  3. This was a set book in my English course at uni in the late 80s - in hindsight, quite a bold choice, but at the time, in a room of, basically, teenagers, I suspect it needed rather more life experience to appreciate.

    1. Hopefully most teens don't get to experience the mother or a Felix in real life & hopefully most people only experience these types of people from the sidelines (or learn how to keep them on the sidelines of their lives.)

      It's the only thing this book was missing - an instructive way to keep yourself safe when forced to deal with someone like this. I guess that type of knowledge is a more modern understanding though.


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