Elizabeth Harrower was born in Sydney and grew up at Newcastle. Harrower spent most of the 1950s living in London where she wrote her first novels, only one of which (The Catherine Wheel) is set in London. Returning to Australia, she worked for the ABC, as a reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald and for a publishing firm.
Harrower's novels are admired for their focus on the psychological oppression and liberation of female protagonists, a focus missing from Australian novels of the 1950s and 1960s. Harrower's best-known novel is The Watch Tower (1966), a tale of a woman's attempted escape from a dull life by marriage to her employer who eventually resorts to psychological cruelty and physical violence, forcing her to escape once more from an unhappy relationship.
Although she wrote occasional reviews and short stories, The Watch Tower was Harrower's last novel, until she released In Certain Circles in 2014. Text Publishing, which also published the new novel, had been re-releasing Harrower's earlier works, and the combination of the novels coming back into print and the new novel resulted in a new wave of interest in Harrower's writing. Since 2014, her works have increasingly been translated, especially into French. She also released a volume of her short stories, A Few Days in the Country, in 2015.
The reputation of her novels had remained strong throughout her hiatus. In 1996, she received the Patrick Award for the contribution her novels have made to Australian literature. In Certain Circles won the 2015 Voss Prize, and was shortlisted for numerous other awards, including the Prime minister's Literary Awards, while A Few Days in the Country won the Steele Rudd Award (Queensland Literary Awards) and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize. Her novels have been taught at universities across Australia.
A short story anthology, Sydney's Stories: A Selection of the Best Short Stories Written About Australia (1994), co-edited by Vivian Smith, is listed in Libraries Australia. This book has not been traced.
'One day, Alice said, ‘Eric Lane wants to take me to—’
'For the first time, her mother attended, standing still.
'Eric was brought to the house, and Eric and Alice were married before there was time to say ‘knife’. How did it happen? She tried to trace it back. She was watching her mother performing for Eric, and then (she always paused here in her mind), somehow, she woke up married and in another house.
'Internationally acclaimed for her five brilliant novels, Elizabeth Harrower is also the author of a small body of short fiction. A Few Days in the Country brings together for the first time her stories published in Australian journals in the 1960s and 1970s, along with those from her archives—including ‘Alice’, published for the first time earlier this year in the New Yorker.
'Essential reading for Harrower fans, these finely turned pieces show a broader range than the novels, ranging from caustic satires to gentler explorations of friendship.' (Publication summary)
'Zoe Howard is seventeen when her brother, Russell, introduces her to Stephen Quayle. Aloof and harsh, Stephen is unlike anyone she has ever met, ‘a weird, irascible character out of some dense Russian novel’. His sister, Anna, is shy and thoughtful, ‘a little orphan’.
'Zoe and Russell, Stephen and Anna: they may come from different social worlds but all four will spend their lives moving in and out of each other’s shadow.
'Set amid the lush gardens and grand stone houses that line the north side of Sydney Harbour, In Certain Circles is an intense psychological drama about family and love, tyranny and freedom.' (Publication abstract)