When novelist Joan London was 18 she read Elizabeth Harrower’s best-known novel, The Watch Tower, for the first time. It was an experience that she has never forgotten. The book, she says, gripped her like a nightmare.
“While never having suffered the excruciating manipulation of the novel’s villain Felix Shaw, there was something terribly familiar about the quick, sly barbs that gathered force against two young, well-meaning sisters who were in his employ,” London says. “We have the words for it now: mental cruelty, and the legal means to combat it.”
Harrower died in a care home at the age of 92 last week, the news announced quietly in the personal ads of The Sydney Morning Herald. The Sydney-born author wrote five novels. She published her first, Down in the City in 1957, but later described it as “practice” for the second, The Long Prospect, which appeared two years later.
Both were written during an eight-year spell in England. The Catherine Wheel, which she set in London, came out in 1960, by which time she had returned to Australia, and The Watch Tower was published in 1966. She refused to allow publication of her fifth, In Certain Circles, after receiving a condescending reader’s report from her publisher and virtually gave up writing. More than 40 years later – in 2014 – she allowed the book to appear.