Elizabeth Harrower’s debut novel Down in the City, published in 1957, essays similar themes to her last and better known work The Watch Tower, released nine years later.
Both novels are concerned with co-dependency; with the taut, fearful dance of toxic relationships and the formative experiences that leave people vulnerable to becoming enmeshed in them.
Harrower is interested in how and why people subjugate others, and seek to strip them of their agency and sense of self. On the other side of the equation, her writing interrogates the reasons people become trapped in cycles of victimisation, and can be slowly warped towards complicity in their own destruction.
Possessed of lucid and biting psychological insight, Harrower is keenly aware of the transactional nature of human relationships in a society in which women, especially, can easily find themselves on the wrong side of the ledger.
These are two powerful and unsettling novels, from one of Australia’s most underappreciated twentieth century writers. Highly recommended.
Next time, Shirley Hazzard’s The Bay of Noon. Until then, take care and happy reading.