'The wind from Siberia as announced by the BBC came down Bayswater Road from the direction of Marble Arch…Searing skin, and petrifying metal and wood, it took possession of London and this early day of the new year. Gently, somehow sympathetically, with a secret sort of throb, my ears ached against it, but rather more drearily and with a sense of injustice my eyes watered as I narrowed them at the steely dark sky and swirling smoke. The centre of the universe! The brilliance of the winter season!
'Twenty-five-year-old Clemency James has moved from Sydney to a chilly bedsit on the other side of the world. During the day she studies for the bar by correspondence; in the evenings she gives French lessons to earn a meagre wage. When she meets Christian, a charismatic would-be actor, she can see he’s trouble—not least because he’s involved with an older woman who has children. She is drawn to him nonetheless: drawn into his world of unpayable debts and wild promises.
'First published in 1960, The Catherine Wheel is Elizabeth Harrower’s third novel and the only one of her books not set in Australia. In it she turns her unflinching gaze on the grim realities of 1950s London, and the madness that can infect couples.'
Source: Publisher's blurb (Text ed.).
'The opening sentence of the first short story Elizabeth Harrower ever completed 3 plunges the reader into a dramatic meteorological event:
And then, as if the lightning that ripped the sky apart wasn’t enough, the lights round the edge of the swimming pool, and even the three big ones sunk into it on cement piles, went out. At once the solid blackness rang with shrieks and laughter; only Janet was struck dumb to find that she had been obliterated. It was like nothing so much as that astronomical darkness into which she had been plunged last year when they took out her tonsils. (Introduction)
'Elizabeth Harrower’s third novel, The Catherine Wheel (1960) – the only one set outside Australia – begins with an example of what Jon Hegglund terms modernist “metageography”: that is, a use of maps and the conventions of cartographic representation in such a way as to defamiliarise the social production of space, and of national and personal identity. 1 Clemency James, a young Australian woman, has come to London in the late 1950s to study for the bar, and as she returns to her bedsitting room from a shopping trip to Notting Hill Gate, she takes her bearings from a weather report that locates London in relation to the landmass of hemispheric Europe:
“The wind from Siberia as announced by the BBC came down Bayswater Road from the direction of Marble Arch somewhere in a straight line beyond which, half a world away, Siberia was taken to be”. 2 Zooming in to a local scale, Clem locates her “centre of the universe” (3) in a boarding house just off Bayswater Road: Across the road the enigmatic façades of a row of semi-public buildings ended where the railings of Kensington Gardens began. Just opposite this corner of the gardens Miss Evans had her service-house, and it was here I had a room with a diagonal view of bare black avenues and paths and empty seats and grass. (4)' (Introduction)
' Five novels by Australian women novelists, namely Christina Stead's 'For Love Alone' (1945), Helen Garner's 'Monkey Grip' (1977) and Elizabeth Harrower's 'Down in the City' (1957), 'The Catherine Wheel' (1960) and 'The Watch Tower' (1966) are critically analysed to explore the reversal of gender roles in them. It is suggested that the women in the novels attend to their men's needs and problems by performing an active role in a passive manner, while the males are actually passive within their active appearances.' (Publication abstract)
'Elizabeth Harrower, renowned writer, speaks about the inspiration behind her writing and who influenced her the most. Harrower also elaborates on some of her novels and the meaning behind them.' (Introduction)
'Elizabeth Harrower, one of the most talented of our younger novelists, is a writer whose steadily developing work deserves fuller consideration than it has so far been given. Her books may lack the more obvious and insistent attractions that have won numerous readers for Randolph Stow, Thea Astley, and Thomas Keneally, but they are the products of a truly creative writer, subtie, disciplined, and perceptive. Her fiction does not lend itself to quick illustration and cursory discussion; its strength lies in her absorption in the relationships she traces between her characters. Her talents begin to manifest themselves only when we follow her as she works through the spectrum of a whole scene and then pause to consider its place in the general design. Unlike some of her contemporaries who have tasted success, she never hurries into print, and, allowing for differences of opinion about The Catherine Wheel, we are justified in claiming for her work as a whole a gradual expansion of imaginative power as she extends the range of her subjects and intensifies their treatment, and a steady progress in technical accomplishment as we move from one book to the next. Her four novels are spread over a period of ten years: Down in the City (1957), The Long Prospect (1958), The Catherine Wheel (1960) and The Watch Tower (1966). They are, without exception, short novels (interestingly enough, all almost exactly the same length, just over 200 pages each), but from The Long Prospect onwards they manage to pack a good deal into a short space. Before looking at each in some detail it will be as well to offer a few generalizations.' (Publication abstract)