The Watch Tower

The Watch Tower

4.0 2
by Elizabeth Harrower

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After Laura and Clare are abandoned by their mother, Felix is there to help, even to marry Laura if she will have him. Little by little the sisters grow complicit with his obsessions, his cruelty, his need to control. A novel of relentless and acute psychological power, from one of Australia's greatest writers.


After Laura and Clare are abandoned by their mother, Felix is there to help, even to marry Laura if she will have him. Little by little the sisters grow complicit with his obsessions, his cruelty, his need to control. A novel of relentless and acute psychological power, from one of Australia's greatest writers.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Michael Dirda
…Elizabeth Harrower lives up to her last name. 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 reminded me of Zola in its unflinching depiction of two sisters entangled with a moody, violent man, one of them being gradually crushed into subservience, the other struggling desperately to save her own soul. It is a brilliant achievement.
From the Publisher

‘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

Kirkus Reviews
Originally published in 1966 in Australia, Harrower's (The Catherine Wheel, 1960, etc.) narrative penetrates the intimate lives of an abuser and his enablers in 1940s Australia. Laura and Clare are emotionally unprepared to fend for themselves, and their father's sudden death and self-indulgent mother's abandonment mark the beginning of a lifetime of permitting others to define their lives. Yanked from boarding school, where Laura had secret aspirations of becoming a physician like her father or a professional singer, Laura's mother enrolls her in business school in Sydney. She and Clare spend hours before and after classes catering to their mother and accepting their lot as their mother's keepers. When Laura graduates at the top of her class, her mother insists she find work near their home, so Laura becomes a typist in a box factory. But soon after, her mother decides to return to England and leave the girls in Australia. That's when 44-year-old factory owner Felix Shaw steps in and offers to marry Laura and care for Clare. Life doesn't drastically change for the sisters: They go from a life of servitude in their mother's home to a life of servitude and abuse in Felix's new mansion. Felix desperately wants to be seen as a mover and a shaker and, just as he's ensnared Laura and Clare, he allows shady business associates to take advantage of him. Felix drinks, and the more he drinks, the more abusive he becomes. While Laura and Clare slowly suffocate and fade into invisibility, each believes in the unimportance of her existence. In fact, Clare's astounded to discover that a co-worker actually has thought about her when she wasn't around. Although the introduction of a new character brings new hope to Clare, reading Harrower's psychological narrative can be as emotionally draining as the lives she describes. Her haunting and delicate writing provides stark contrast to the reality of her characters' situations. Readers who missed this book the first time around will want to read the reprint.

Product Details

Text Publishing Company
Publication date:
Text Classics Series
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Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet 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.

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The Watch Tower 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Yeah. I know."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
xD I'll do so in awhile. My wifi. Is. Being. Total. Crap.