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The Watch Tower (Text Classics) Paperback – May 7, 2013


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Product Details

  • Series: Text Classics
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Text Classics; Reprint edition (May 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1921922427
  • ISBN-13: 978-1921922428
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 4.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,195,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

‘This is a harrowing novel, relentless in its depiction of marital enslavement, spiritual self-destruction and the exploited condition of women in a masculinist society…It is a brilliant achievement.’
Washington Post

‘[A] fantastically incisive portrait of domestic cruelty…For all the psychological torment Harrower subjects her protagonists to, Clare’s defiance brings a delectably feminist streak to The Watch Tower.'
Daily Beast

‘Harrower crafts a gripping, psychologically astute tale…A classic, indeed.’
Shelf Unbound

The Watch Tower is an enthralling, captivating story about psychological entrapment and the struggle to escape it.’
Shelf Awareness

'Like lightning, Harrower's prose illuminates dark corners. She captures two seemingly contradictory movements: living in the jolt of adrenalin as one waits for the next car crash or door slam; and the slow, inexorable numbing of the heart as one retreats from the pain of human relationships.'
The Chuckanut Reader

‘Haunting…Harrower captures brilliantly the struggle to retain a self.’
Guardian UK

‘Haunting and delicate.’
Kirkus Reviews

'Harrower can pierce your heart.... a mesmerising novel.'
Washington Post

‘To create a monster as continually credible, comic and nauseating as Felix is a feat of a very high order. But to control that creation, as Miss Harrower does, so that Clare remains the centre of interest is an achievement even more rare. The Watch Tower is a triumph of art over virtuosity.… a dense, profoundly moral novel of our time.’
H.G. Kippax, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 November 1966

‘Elizabeth Harrower’s thrilling 1966 novel The Watch Tower comes rampaging back from decades of disgraceful neglect: a wartime Sydney story of two abandoned sisters and the arrival in their lives of Felix, one of literature’s most ferociously realised nasty pieces of work.’
Helen Garner, The Australian Books of the Year, 2012

‘Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower truly feels like a neglected classic…I think it’s one of the most moving books I’ve read in a very long time.’
Mariella Frostrup

‘I read this book twice. Once for sheer pleasure – if pleasure can be the correct term for an experience that is so distressing – and once for the purposes of this review…It left me with the strongest sense I have had for a very long time of the infinite preciousness of consciousness, at whatever cost, and of our terrifying human vulnerability.’
Salley Vickers, Sydney Morning Herald

‘I couldn’t put down The Watch Tower, Elizabeth Harrower’s dark fairytale of psychological cruelty and co-dependence set in suburban Sydney. Although published originally in 1966 (and reprinted this year by Text Classics), it still has the power to shock. Harrower’s insight into the nuances of a pathological personality is forensic, and surely one of the most acute in our literature since Henry Handel Richardson’s The Fortunes of Richard Mahony. At the same time, because of its complicated tone, her book retains a kind of mythic power.’
Delia Falconer, The Australian Books of the Year, 2012

‘A superb psychological novel that will creep into your bones.’
Michelle de Kretser, The Monthly

‘I read The Watch Tower with a mixture of fascination and horror. It was impossible to put down. I then read all Harrower’s novels: The Long Prospect (a prescient study of a relationship between a man and a clever but unrecognised young girl), Down in the City and The Catherine Wheel. Her acute psychological assessments are made from gestures, language and glances and she is brilliant on power, isolation and class.’
Ramona Koval, The Australian Books of the Year, 2012

'Roaring out of 40 years in obscurity, Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower is a beautifully written, utterly hypnotic account of two Australian girls’ abandonment by their manicure-admiring mother and subsequent drift towards annihilation at the hands of the eldest’s viciously craven husband.'
Chosen by Eimear McBride as one of her books of the year in the Irish Times

'What a discovery! Harrower’s voice in this book is disconcerting at first: almost fatigued, as though she knows that everything to come is fated to be so and there’s little to do but tell the story. And her characters—two young sisters—likewise passively accept the events that befall them. This fatalism is absorbing, though, as you watch the women move slowly through a comatose state into a kind of awakening. In fact, the story reminded me at times of A Doll’s House—namely, in the younger sister’s internal striving for selfhood and independence—but the long tale of the sisters’ subjugation is far more excruciating than what Ibsen imagined.' —Nicole Rudick, Paris Daily Review

About the Author

Elizabeth Harrower was born in Sydney in 1928 but her family soon relocated to Newcastle where she lived until she was eleven.

In 1951 Harrower moved to London. She travelled extensively and she began to write fiction. Her first novel Down in the City was published in 1957, and was followed by The Long Prospect a year later. In 1959 she returned to Sydney where she began working for the ABC and as a book reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1960 she published The Catherine Wheel, the story of an Australian law student in London, her only novel not set in Sydney. The Watch Tower appeared in 1966. Between 1961 and 1967 she worked in publishing, for Macmillan.

No further novels were published though Harrower continued to write short fiction. Her work is austere, intelligent, ruthless in its perceptions about men and women. She was admired by many of her contemporaries, including Patrick White and Christina Stead, and is without doubt among the most important writers of the postwar period in Australia.

Elizabeth Harrower lives in Sydney.

Joan London's collected stories are published as The New Dark Age. Her first novel, Gilgamesh, won the Age Book of the Year for Fiction in 2002, and The Good Parents won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in 2009.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Georgina Foster on May 4, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm so glad this "lost treasure" was republished recently. It was a truly wonderful depiction of both the mundaneness of suburban life (still applicable in today's world) and the unbelievable difficulties women had in negotiating society without the benevolence of men. A subtle but strong feminist piece that deserves its recent praise.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By ArtGeoff on February 23, 2013
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My title says much of it. This beautifully written book tells a tale of great misery and meanness -- as someone wrote, of entrapment and co-dependence in today's terms. Mr Shaw, one of the main characters, is a misogynist of the first water and his marriage to Laura leads her to a life of misery.

Sydney in the post world war II years is beautifully evoked and the characters well drawn -- but the misery of some of the characters' lives is a bit depressing. However, there is hope for at least one of them.

This marvellous book is right up there in quality of clinical observation with the work of Harrower's compatriot, Nobel Prize winner Patrick White. Definitely worth reading!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Swirls on February 16, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The Watch Tower starts ominously: “now that your father’s gone -…….dead” she corrected herself firmly, with a trace of malice.”

And the oppression, the malevolence just does not ease.

The Watch Tower is set in 1940’s Sydney. Schoolgirls Laura and Clare have recently lost their father; shortly thereafter their narcissistic mother abandons them for London. But this is not before she sees Laura “successfully” married to the much older Felix. And what the mother leaves, the husband continues. So Laura and Clare lurch from being ignored, disregarded and overlooked to being abused, manipulated, coerced, controlled and ruined.

Harrower vividly describes the stomach churning fear as Felix returns home: “she turned immobile as marble and Clare did, too.………..Breaking their poses like trees snapping branches, the women urgently regarded each other, cleared away all signs of work in an instant, examined their souls for defects, in a sense crossed themselves, and waited.”

It is innumerable scenes like this, layered, that provide us with a deep psychological insight and understanding of how this has come to be. Laura’s overwhelming need to please, to subjugate herself, sees her rationalise Felix’s behaviour. Thus, for Laura, hope always remains in the relationship. However Clare is able to “watch” and has more insight and perception– she sees the atrocity for what it is. Detaching when it becomes all too much, but never losing sight that this is wrong. But obligation roots her. How do the girls fare? I urge you to read and find out.

It should be noted that the violence is not overtly explicit in The Watch Tower; it is this adept handling that provides the permeating, claustrophobic malevolence.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Buckridge on March 16, 2014
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This is one of the best novels ever written by an Australian. Harrower is right up there with White, Richardson and Stead. It's good to have it available again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sylvia on August 26, 2013
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Laura and Clare are deserted by their widowed mother while still teenagers and just as war breaks out in 1939. At her mother's instruction, Laura has to give up her ideas of becoming a doctor in order to keep her much younger sister and herself. She thinks she is lucky when her much older boss and an owner of a business and property, Felix Shaw, asks her to marry him. He also undertakes to keep Clare, Laura's younger sister in their household.

Because they are penniless and therefore powerless, the two friendless girls suffer many humiliations at Felix's hands. Laura, because she is afraid of being uncared for again, is the faithful wife and has endless excuses for his behaviour and Clare, her loving sister is afraid to leave Laura alone with him for what he might do.

Some reviewers disliked this book because of the endless misery the two girls endure. However, I found the tale profound and an extremely interesting study of character. It also clearly illuminated the awful situation of being intelligent and female but penniless in the middle of the 20th century.

I would recommend this book to older readers, who may perhaps remember how that time was, and also to younger readers who are interested, and maybe take for granted, the freedoms we all have today.
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This is quite a challenging read. It is not easy to get into but when I did I liked it.I do think it is beautifully written but felt it was maybe a bit beyond me. That said I cared about the characters and never considered giving it away. I have thought about this book since I finished reading it so it did make an impression on me. I thought the author really captured Sydney and the times.
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By Lyn simpson on July 8, 2014
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Interesting characters, very complex relationships.
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Amazing characterisation. Kept me riveted. A wonderful picture of post war Sydney and life of the era, human strengths, frailties and in particular the lives of women of the time. Despite everything, I liked Laura and admired Claire, though at times hated their weakness, yet understood it.
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