THE CATHERINE WHEEL by Elizabeth Harrower
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THE CATHERINE WHEEL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The latest reissue from the author of In Certain Circles (2014) and The Watch Tower (1966).

First published in 1960, Harrower's third novel evokes both Victorian melodrama and contemporary realism. Clemency James has moved from Sydney to London to study for the bar. She’s independent and committed to creating her own future, but she’s also an extravagant narrator, much given to philosophical pronouncements and exclamation points. Harrower’s prose would be entirely too much if Clem weren’t aware of her own tendency toward “flashy moods and temperament.” This heroine meets something like her match in Christian Roland, the failed actor employed by her landlady as a window washer and night watchman. As an outsider, Clem is a keen observer of how class operates in midcentury England. In Australia, her fine winter coat suggested nothing more than the fact that she could afford it. In London, it speaks of a pedigree that she cannot claim. She lives in a shabby but not disreputable London bedsit and gives French lessons in order to augment a small inheritance from her father. It’s this awareness of her own ambiguous outsider status that initially makes Clem susceptible to Christian’s charms. She recognizes his flattery—and self-flattery—as a kind of performance; nevertheless, she doesn’t want to be perceived as a snob. She recognizes that she’s playing a part in her interactions with Chris, but she can’t seem to resist the play. And then there’s Olive….The woman presented as Chris’ wife is decades his senior and herself a figure of pantomime. Clem understands that her role in this story is unlikely to be a happy one. She embraces it not as an innocent but as a modern woman willing to experience—and survive—old tropes.

Rich and rewarding.





Pub Date: July 14th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-922147-95-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Text
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2015




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