The Long Prospect – Elizabeth Harrower

The Long Prospect
Elizabeth Harrower

The Long Prospect portrays an extended family with twelve year old Emily and her grandmother Lilian at center stage. The family lives in Ballowra (Newcastle). Emily’s parents are separated and Emily has been in the care of her grandmother for a very long time. As in The Watch Tower, the mother is indifferent, and her daughter has no siblings. Emily has few friends, is tall for her age, intelligent, eavesdrops, is analytical, perverse at times, and has huge crushes on anyone who respects her. A delightful episode early in the book is when Emily follows her teacher Miss Bates home after school. Emily fantasies –

‘Miss Bates would come to the door, cry, ‘Emily, my dear. I was lonely. You must come in and have tea with me…She might even say, ‘I’ll be your aunt, my dear. In fact, I am your long-lost aunt. And you may have the scooter I rode when I was your age.’

Emily’s grandmother, Lilian, is loud, colourful and generous providing Emily plenty of pocket money which she mostly spends at the ‘pictures’, which, one suspects, are made for an audience well beyond her years. Lilian is also moody and viper tongued. She has male ‘friends’, and Emily is so used to her grandmother’s raucous parties that she no longer notices them.

‘In microcosm Lilian was the world. She was the majority, and had its  qualities for good and evil. Living with her was practice in bloodless warfare…’

Although well off, Lilian further entertains herself by letting rooms in her large home to professionals who are mostly employed at the steel works. Two of these, first Thea, when Emily is very young, then Max when she is in her thirteenth year recognise Emily as the person she really is. Lonely themselves, they enjoy her company, take her on outings and bring her books to read. Emily, in return develops a huge crush on Thea and then Max.

‘Max lived, she had inarticulately grown to know, not with happiness, as she had easily supposed, but resignation. That this was all that by her side could be achieved, dismayed her. What then could he feel for her?’

The companionship between the two lonely individuals draws the attention of the grandmother and the situation is brought to an end with Emily being sent to live with her mother in Sydney.

Harrower is a gutsy writer. She subtly mocks the insincere, the shallow, the two faced and the pretentious. She deals with subjects that, until not so long ago, were meant not to exist, giving the reader plenty to think about. But best of all she allows her characters to create the story, producing highly realistic and powerful fiction.

*This reprint of Elizabeth Harrower’s 1958 novel The Long Prospect is very welcome indeed. I have long sought Harrower’s novels and am pleased now to have the two recent reprints by Text (see also The watch Tower). I now hope that Text reprints Harrower’s first novel Down in the City and The Catherine Wheel her last novel published in 1960 to complete my collection  of this most intriguing Australian author’s work.

Reviewer: Brenda Stevens-Chambers

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