In Certain Circles

In Certain Circles


by Elizabeth Harrower
26 FEB 2015

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Extent: 356pp

Format: Paperback


  • Winner, Voss Literary Prize, 2015
  • Shortlisted, NSW Premier's Literary Awards, Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, 2015
  • Shortlisted, Colin Roderick Literary Award, 2015
  • Shortlisted, Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction, 2015
  • Shortlisted, Western Australian Premier's Book Award for Fiction, 2016
  • Longlisted, Miles Franklin Literary Award, 2015
  • Longlisted, Kibble Literary Award, 2015

Zoe Howard is seventeen when her brother, Russell, introduces her to Stephen Quayle. Aloof and harsh, Stephen is 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.


‘Harrower can pierce your heart.’ Michael Dirda, Washington Post

‘A scandalously overlooked writer.’ Michelle de Kretser

‘A coup…weirdly thrilling line by line…[its] dense and adult conversation crackles with a sense of moral urgency.’ Delia Falconer, Australian

‘Utterly hypnotic.’ Eimear McBride, Irish Times

‘She is brilliant on power, isolation and class.’ Ramona Koval, Australian

‘Her insights into the nature of love, the role of women and the torsions of power in even the most ordinary relationship are bitter and sometimes cruel, wielded in the way that acute honesty may be, like a whip. Yet they are always delivered via the honeyed dipper of her prose.’ Geordie Williamson, Monthly

‘A novel of astonishing psychological insight exploring the darker aspects of human attraction.’ Saturday Paper

‘An exploration of the psychologies of entitlement and deprivation in the context of love.’ Book of the Week Adelaide Advertiser

‘This is not a comfortable book. It is tight, intense, concentrated, powerful - almost hypnotic.’ Weekend Press

‘Reading In Certain Circles gave me the thrill that only comes from the work of a major novelist.’ The Conversation

‘In Certain Circles is subtle yet wounding, and very much alive.’ Guardian

‘A brilliant exploration of relationships, marriage, thwarted passion and the beauty and the price of love.’ Herald Sun

‘There are many wonderful things in this novel. Harrower’s skill in evoking a place is impressive. Her eye for oddities of behaviour, for quirks of character and for patches of pretentiousness is as sure as ever. The wry intelligence of her view of middle-class Australian life is evident throughout. Her writing is characteristically sharp and pithy. Whatever the reason behind her decision not to allow this novel to be released four decades ago, its rebirth is an event to be celebrated.’ Andrew Reimer, SMH/Age/Canberra Times

‘Exceptional’ West Australian

‘With its flavor of Henry James, Harrower’s rediscovered story is an odd, brittle yet impressive piece of work that exposes the complex passions beneath a drawing-room-scenario surface.’ Kirkus Reviews

‘A stark, uncompromising drama of marital imprisonment and psychological manipulation. In its atmosphere of dread and compulsion it has elements of Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic suspense novels. But Ms. Harrower’s fearsome objectivity and her bristling, beautiful prose come from modernist masters like Katherine Mansfield and Elizabeth Bowen.’ Wall St Journal

‘Harrower was right about In Certain Circles being well written, but surely wrong to take its superb style for granted, as if mere literary muscle memory. Like the rest of her work, the novel is severely achieved: the coolly exact prose cannot be distinguished from the ashen exhaustion of its tragic fires…The book belongs with her best work, with The Watch Tower and The Long Prospect…[It] is more explicit than Harrower’s earlier work about ideological tensions between men and women. It is also broader in scope and not as angry—wiser and less hopeless.’ James Wood, New Yorker