After Laura and Clare are abandoned by their mother, Felix is there to help, even to marry Laura if she will have him. I urge you to read and find out. Ouf - I've done it! In a sense, this is another idea that it is through madness and insanity that somebody is able to overcome the inhibition of killing another human being. I am uneasy with aspects of the story, they reflect a reality I have observed. Harrower describes all the smells and sounds and feelings of being on board and alighting. She travelled extensively and she began to write fiction. Having spent a year or so with Rob and Helen of The Archers, I am very familiar with the world of abusive, controlling husbands.
The prose sparkles with a hard glint of insight, the characterisation is terrifyingly real. The upside is that the distance this form of narration creates meant I didn't become emotionally attached to either sister - a very good thing since their outwardly privileged lives were depressingly miserable. Set in the leafy northern suburbs of Sydney during the 1940s, The Watch Tower is a novel of relentless and acute psychological power. It all made perfectly sense. Girls were bewitched by their own ability to curl their hair and embroider hideous daisies on hideous teacloths. This story is about Clare and Laura, two sisters who live in Sydney in the 1940s.
I can only think Harrower must have known a man as abusive as Felix to have painted his behaviour so accurately. But even more than that, it produced in me feelings of hopelessness and inertia, absorbing them from the characters in a way that can only point to superb writing. 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. They are not horror: rather they are designed to create a reaction with the overuse of blood and gore. Only this was a bit of a struggle.
Harrower stops at the bedroom door - for which I am personally very grateful - but leaves us in no doubt of Felix' manic misogyny, his calling of women 'things', 'not fit to vomit on' and , most telling of all, Harrower mentions early on in the marriage, that Laura has read , and now understands, an anthropological article she once read about a tribe in which the men regard sex as the worst and most degrading act that can be visited upon anybody and treat women accordingly. Even though this book is from the 1960s, it doesn't seem like Australia has changed that much. For more than three-quarters of this book I was totally admiring and absorbed despite the ever-increasing awfulness of Felix, but either my tiredness or an over-long final passage made the end more wearisome than anticipated. Oftentimes, I felt like screaming at them because I became so frustrated with their lives and decisions. It all made perfectly sense. This whole book could have been cut down to 50 pages and I don't think much would have been left out.
I think that I would most likely be like them if I had gone through what they did. Two sisters are marooned by their couldn't-give-a-shit mother. Only this was a bit of a struggle. 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. I simply had to read it this weekend.
How do you think adults get to know each other? Little by little the sisters grow complicit with his obsessions, his cruelty, his need to control. For all the psychological torment Harrower subjects her protagonists to, Clare's defiance brings a delectably feminist streak to The Watch Tower. 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. And what the mother leaves, the husband continues. There is such tension in the prose that at times I literally had to remind myself to breathe. However, with some English books, such as Hamlet, we don't need to borrow them, though I suspect that the editions that are recommended are because of the commentaries. For me, two tragic themes are central to this novel.
This book is set in Australia during World War Two when the protagonists flee England to live a more peaceful life elsewhere. Harrower describes all the smells and sounds and feelings of being on board and alighting. As such many people in England fled to safer parts of the empire, but even then, places like India, and even Australia, were feeling the pressure of enemies bearing down upon them. The Watch Tower is almost a psychological thriller; it has the pace and tension of one and is an absolutely compelling reading. From our modern viewpoint it is difficult to see what these two women would subject themselves to the mental torture inflicted by this controlling man, but women had few options in those days and leaving home to live independently was not easy. At this time, as I mentioned in my previous commentary, war had ceased to be something that occurred at the fringes of the empire and had moved much closer to home. The Watch Tower appeared in 1966.
The book is surely a mini-masterpiece. This excerpt just about covers it: They thought they knew what they were saying! However this book is not about war, or fleeing from war. 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. Read to understand the entrapment and cycle of abuse. But to control that creation, as Miss Harrower does, so that Clare remains the centre of interest is an achievement even more rare.
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. I love a dark book. I felt very frustrated that neither Laura nor Clare were able to put up any resistance to the horrible man who controlled their lives and was appalled that he was able to get away with his behaviour. Laura cares for the younger Clare. Of course I'm glad she got out of the situation in the end, but the way that it was done.
I don't get this particular sentence. Her first novel Down in the City was published in 1957, and was followed by The Long Prospect a year later. This book is about social isolation, suppression, subjugation, and suffocation. Not because of the writing - which is spare and direct, clear-eyed and unflinching - but because it reflects what life for many women in the developed world would be like now, today, without the advent of Feminism. Like another I've read recently by an Australian woman writer - - I can't say I enjoyed it, rather I admired it. Her work is austere, intelligent, ruthless in its perceptions about men and women.