Shortlist year: 2015

Shortlist category: Fiction

Published by: Text Publishing

Zoe Howard is seventeen when her brother, Russell, introduces her to Stephen Quayle. He's unlike anyone she has ever met, 'a weird, irascible character out of some dense Russian novel'. His sister, Anna, is shy and thoughtful, 'a little orphan'.

Zoe and Russell, Stephen and Anna: they may come from different social worlds but all four will spend their lives moving in and out of each other's shadow.

Set amid the lush gardens and grand stone houses that line the north side of Sydney Harbour, In Certain Circles is an intense psychological drama about family and love, tyranny and freedom.

About the author

Elizabeth Harrower

Elizabeth Harrower was born in Sydney in 1928. In 1951 Harrower travelled to London and began to write. Her first novel, Down in the City, was published there in 1957 and was followed by The Long Prospect a year later.

In 1959 she returned to Sydney, where she worked in radio and then in publishing. Her third novel, The Catherine Wheel, appeared in 1960.

Harrower published The Watch Tower in 1966. Four years later she wrote a new novel, In Certain Circles, but withdrew it from publication. It remained unpublished until 2014.

Judges’ comments

In Certain Circles, Elizabeth Harrower's fifth and final novel, explores a series of relationships across two very different social worlds in the glitteringly beautiful Sydney from the post-war period through to the late sixties. Zoe and Russell are the privileged offspring of benign parents.

In a three-act psychological domestic drama, they encounter the orphaned and emotionally abandoned siblings Stephen and Anna. The narrative offers the promise of a love story but leads subtly to the conclusion that one can be reconciled rather than defeated by failure.

The central character Zoe, naively fuelled by the optimism of her class and with the benefit of beauty and talent, will learn the lesson that these attributes are not sufficient to prevail against the dark complexities she encounters in an increasingly unhappy and bitter marriage. In the clash between hope and cynicism, between privilege and disadvantage, these characters' limitations are revealed.

The dynamic between parents and children, siblings, married couples and lovers are explored by Harrower in a spare and economical prose style. In the era of amateur psychologising and self-indulgent introspection, much in the novel is refreshingly left unsaid.