The Watch Tower
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The Watch Tower

Elizabeth Harrower, Joan London

Introduced by Joan London

Breaking their poses like trees snapping branches, the women urgently regarded each other, cleared away all signs of work in an instant, examined their souls for defects, in a sense crossed themselves, and waited.

After Laura and Clare are abandoned by their mother, Felix is there to help, even to marry Laura if she will have him. Little by little the two sisters grow complicit with his obsessions, his cruelty, his need to control.

Set in the leafy northern suburbs of Sydney during the 1940s, The Watch Tower is a novel of relentless and acute psychological power.


The Watch Tower is almost a psychological thriller; it has the pace and tension of one and is an absolutely compelling reading. Set in Sydney around the late fifties it’s the story of two sisters, Laura and Clare, who are abandoned by their narcissistic mother and are taken under the wing of older man, Felix.

At first the reasons aren’t obvious and moreover all seems strange. He marries Laura and promises to look after and support the younger Clare in their home. The relationship between him and Laura isn’t a romantic one and barely seems physical and indeed there is little warmth. In public and privately he demeans Laura and strangely ingratiates himself with Clare. In their lives he creates both emotional and physical insecurity with capricious and spiteful acts.

His promise to Laura that he will provide for Clare so that she can complete school and perhaps go on to tertiary study is broken on a whim. He is ostensibly a successful businessman who involves both sisters in his businesses yet makes momentous decisions without warning or consultation. He creates an atmosphere of tension and fear in which Laura is cowed completely and Clare cultivates an attitude of indifference that is just disguised submission.

It becomes obvious that control and domination of the women is Felix’s objective; he despises them yet needs them, needs to control them. Harrower creates this story with an almost creepy ease and the reader is drawn into the weird destructive relationships. I was very grateful to have been introduced to this book.

Mark Rubbo is the Managing Director of Readings

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