In Certain Circles

In Certain Circles 1

by Elizabeth Harrower

Paperback / softback Publication Date: 25/03/2015

3/5 Rating 1 Reviews
RRP  $22.99 $17.75

Longlisted for the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award

Zoe Howard is seventeen when her brother, Russell, introduces her to Stephen Quayle. Aloof and harsh, Stephen is unlike anyone she has ever met, 'a weird, irascible character out of some dense Russian novel'. His sister, Anna, is shy and thoughtful, 'a little orphan'. Zoe and Russell, Stephen and Anna - they may come from different social worlds but all four will spend their lives moving in and out of each other's shadow.

Set amid the lush gardens and grand stone houses that line the north side of Sydney Harbour, In Certain Circles is an intense psychological drama about family and love, tyranny and freedom.

Contemporary fiction
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
Text Publishing
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2nd Edition
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Elizabeth Harrower

Elizabeth Harrower was born in Sydney in 1928. She lived in Newcastle until her family moved back to Sydney when she was eleven. In 1951 Harrower travelled to London and began to write. Her first novel, Down in the City, was published there in 1957 and was followed by The Long Prospect a year later. In 1959 she returned to Sydney, where she worked in radio and then in publishing.

Her third novel, The Catherine Wheel, appeared in 1960. Harrower published The Watch Tower , the novel often called her masterpiece, in 1966. Four years later she finished In Certain Circles, but withdrew it from publication at the last moment. The novel was finally published in 2014, to great acclaim. As well as novels Harrower wrote short stories, most of which are collected in A Few Days in the Country (2015).

She is one of the most important postwar Australian writers. She was admired by many of her contemporaries, including Patrick White and Christina Stead, who both became lifelong friends. Her fiction is now reaching a new generation of readers and writers. Elizabeth Harrower lives in Sydney.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating

3 / 5 (1 Ratings)
  • previously unpublished novel from an acclaimed author

    by on

    “She was too young to be thoughtful, or interested in someone else’s problems. She felt a huge impatience at this unwarranted check to her self-absorption and happy conceit and ambition. So they had all had more troubles than she. Did that really make hem superior? ….It was not as though she were a trashy or frivolous person. Or not only trashy and frivolous. She was almost sure her heart was in the right place. It was simply that circumstances had not called on her to produce it very often.”

    In Certain Circles is the fifth and final full-length novel by Australian author, Elizabeth Harrower, and is set in post-WW2 Sydney. Meet the Howard siblings, offspring of well-to-do parents living on Sydney’s exclusive north shore: seventeen-year-old Zoe, a shallow, self-centred, snobbish girl whose sheltered upbringing means she is quite naïve in some respects; and her older brother Russell, returned safely from the war and very unlike the rest of the family. Russell, about to marry childhood sweetheart, Lily, introduces two orphans to the family: Stephen Quayle, a prickly salesman with erratic moods, and his younger sister, Anna.

    The narrative, carried mainly by two voices, Anna and Zoe, follows the lives of these five characters over the next twenty-three years. Zoe is a quite unappealing main character, although she improves with maturity; Anna is more likeable; the remaining characters are lightly sketched: Russell is apparently charismatic and convincing, a champion of the needy; Stephen, a stereotypical damaged soul; and Lily, a woman devoted to her twin daughters. A somewhat disjointed narrative may confuse the reader at times. Harrower subjects her players to unrequited love, widowhood, neurosis, mental breakdown, mental cruelty and suicidal thoughts.

    Some of the prose is quite beautiful: “Something in him took her from the pink marshmallow castle of her life to a high cliff over the ocean of the real world” and “As always now, she had the sensation, when their eyes met, of sustaining a physical injury. A speechless, difficult resentment went out from them both” and “To live without the interest or attention of other people, without making an impression: in her mind, Zoe groped to imagine such a state. All she could find was a feeling of irritation” are examples.

    The dialogue seems rather stiff and formal, but perhaps the well-to-do intelligentsia really did talk like that in post-war Sydney; perhaps they really did spend their days analysing themselves and their relationships. : “Now she realised that she had shared the common illusion that if someone were only ‘himself’, instead of an imitation of what he could be, he would be fulfilled, more likeable, cleverer, happier, good, better, best. That the mask might sometimes be superior to what lay beneath was an idea that had only recently occurred to her”. This previously unpublished novel from an acclaimed author rewards the reader who persists with a very clever twist at the end.