ArtView January 2016 - Page 17

putting Clare through school so that both sisters need not be sacrificed to "business school", and Clare might have the future Laura was denied. The very day Laura is married, and the two teenaged girls are settled at the house of a virtual stranger, Mrs Vaizey leaves for England to be a lady of leisure with the remains of the girls' inheritance. What happens next in the Shaw House is over a decade of horrifying verbal, physical and psychological abuse, game playing and random, colossal cruelty from a vicious and violent drunk. And we live every moment along with the Vaizey girls. The first order of business: withdrawing the carrot of Clare's education, with Clare offloaded to "business school" just like her sister. It's a blessing that we're largely spared any "pillow talk" between Laura and Felix; one of the most revolting male characters you will likely ever encounter in literary fiction: You're too - stupid - to know he's sick in his guts of being in a house full of women. Christ! They're not fit for me to vomit on. That's why. You're just - things. The Watch Tower is a chilling case in point. Set during World War Two, the novel reflects what life for many women in the developed world would be like now, today, without the advent of feminism. For that reason, it's a "must read" book. Though at times you'll want to look at the words through your fingers. The reader is complicit, throughout the novel, in the terrible case of developing Stockholm Syndrome involving two young sisters, Laura Vaizey—brilliant and in her final years of school—and her younger sister, Clare, who is only nine when the novel begins. When their doctor father dies suddenly, their indolent, useless mother sells their big country home out from under the girls, withdraws Laura immediately from high school and "fixes her up" at a Sydney "business college" so that Laura—like a plough horse—will be the family's bread winner. Very early on, Laura realises "There was nothing to be done" and "There was nothing to dream!" With a jolt of resignation, the reader sits at the crest of the roller coaster, waiting to be shoved over the precipice because Laura's future—"Doctor Laura Vaizey - Laura Vaizey at Covent Garden"— is reduced to Laura Vaizey office girl at "Shaw's Box Factory". The owner, Felix Shaw, a taciturn, saturnine man in his mid-forties, takes advantage of the situation by offering to marry Laura, who is still in her teens. Laura accepts because Felix dangles the carrot of James Wood of The New Yorker, in a 2014 analysis of Harrower’s five full-length novels has noted how: Harrower’s writing is witty, desolate, truthseeking, and complexly polished. Everything (except feeling, which is passionately and directly confessed) is controlled and put under precise formal pressure. Her sentences, which have an unsettling candor, launch a curling assault on the reader, often twisting in unexpected ways. And although her novels can feel somewhat closed, and tend to repeat themselves in theme, her prose is full of variety. She can be bracingly satirical: “The piercing soprano she raised at parties was understood to be her most prized asset, and had won her much applause.” She is generally tart. In “The Catherine Wheel,” a novel narrated by a young Australian woman living in a London bed-sit, a single glance at the room’s furniture tells us much about her self-esteem: “Above it was a mirror, undistorted, except perhaps—I’d already noticed—on the side of flattery.” She can be savagely metaphorical: “She was like a park that had never once removed its Don’t Walk on the Grass signs.” But her wit often teeters on the edge of pain…Harrower is an exceptionally subtle psychologist… [Her] five