Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 26, 2014

Sensational Snippets: In Certain Circles, by Elizabeth Harrower

20702582 Lucky, lucky me! I am reading In Certain Circles, yes, that’s the book that Elizabeth Harrower wrote in 1971 but withdrew from publication at the last minute.  In the publishing coup of the year, this novel is now – over 40 years later – released at last by Text Publishing.

It is a stunning book, rich with precise images, sharp dialogue and a theme every bit as disconcerting as The Watch Tower.  In this excerpt, we see Zoe’s painful growth in self-knowledge:

Zoe sometimes thought of those laboratory animals that were the subjects of experiments.  They were deliberately confused beyond the capacity of their powers of adjustment.  Finally they lay at the bottom of the cage, taking no notice any more of the captors, the coaxing and cajolery that would persuade them to embark again on the routine torment.  Political prisoners were often destroyed in the same way, on purpose; and vain people like me, Zoe thought, who think they can adjust and adjust indefinitely to another person’s irrationality, in that mysterious hope of pleasing and somehow making well that same irrationality.

In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower, Text Publishing, 2014.  ISBN: 9781922182296

In Certain Circles (hardback first edition)


  1. Why was it withdrawn in 1971 Lisa?


    • Well, there’s a bit of a mystery about that. After four successful novels and critical comparison with Christina Stead and Patrick White, Harrower just suddenly stopped writing. She said, in a rather enigmatic review quite a long time ago, that ‘other people’ has an interest in her not writing and that this one would have been a disappointment. (I’m not quoting her directly, I think the link to this interview is on the post where I reviewed The Watch Tower, but I might have read it when I was preparing for that radio interview I did on 3RRR about The Watch Tower.
      It’s impossible to read this without wondering why she withdrew it, I wonder if maybe one of the characters is too close to someone she knew in real life or something like that? There’s a character in this book who gave up a promising career in the service of someone else’s emotional needs. Harrower is in her eighties now, but she’s still not telling.


  2. I have The Watchtower on my shelf and must get around to reading it!
    Yes this is the first question that comes to mind.


    • I’ve got The Long prospect too, I’m looking forward to that.


  3. I’m so looking forward to this one Lisa. Loved Harrower’s The Watch Tower and was fascinated as Michael Heyward very proudly and excitedly spruiked this one at the Perth Writers Festival earlier this year.


    • I’m not surprised he did, he deserves an OAM (*not* a knighthood*) for resurrecting Harrower’s work, and a whole lot of classic Oz writers besides..


  4. I read the watchtower and have Down in the City on pre-order. I’ll add this one to the list, thanks


    • I’ve finished it now, and am just mulling over my review…


  5. […] separate.  Zoe is chained to Stephen by pity and she cannot get free.   As you can see from the Sensational Snippet that I posted earlier, she inevitably reaches the limits of her capacity to adjust.  It is such […]


  6. I’ve just received my copy of In Certain Circles and I’m looking forward to reading it. I read The Watchtower, The Catherine Wheel and The Long Prospect years ago in paperback and could not find a copy of Down in the City. Thanks to Text, I finally bought it last year. I’ve always been a great admirer of Elizabeth Harrower, who is probably my favourite Australian writer, and it’s wonderful to have her being rediscovered at last – and her final novel at last available! Recently I re-read the three I already had. I’d forgotten how appalling a character Christian in CW was, or perhaps I was too young to appreciate how poisonous and how impossible he was for a young woman to deal with. If it weren’t for Felix Shaw and Christina Stead’s Sam Pollit, I would have named him the most dreadful character in Australian literature. I was interested to read a comment in Goodreads from a woman who decided that Elizabeth Harrower must have studied psychology in order to be able to write as she does. She is writing from life and experience, of course.
    I am going to enjoy the days of anticipation before I read this latest book. The treat of the year, I’m guessing.


  7. Hello Anne, and welcome! I am always pleased to meet a fan of Elizabeth Harrower, she is such a splendid writer. I only have The Long Prospect on my TBR but hope to find The Catherine Wheel before long. (Did Text reissue that? I will have to find out).
    Harrower is very good at rendering awful men, and yes, as you say, Sam Pollit is probably the alpha male of awful men but Harrower’s are not far behind. If they had children – oh, the very thought of Felix Shaw having children makes me shudder….


  8. […] In Certain Circles, by Elizabeth Harrower (see my review and a Sensational Snippet) […]


  9. […] In Certain Circles (Elizabeth Harrower, Text) See my review and a Sensational Snippet […]


  10. […] Books (2015) Harrower, Elizabeth In Certain Circles Text Publishing (2014), see my review and a Sensational Snippet Harrower, Elizabeth A Few Days in the Country and Other Stories Text Publishing (2015) Jones, Gail A […]


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