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The Long Prospect by Elizabeth Harrower

The Long Prospect (1958)

by Elizabeth Harrower

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A boarding house in Newcastle, late 1950’s, the manipulative landlady, Lilian, her set of vituperative friends, her set upon lodgers and her twelve year old granddaughter, Emily. Into this household comes Max, the onetime married lover of Lilian’s lodger Thea.

Emily is a desert flower, hiding, waiting, blasted by the constant heat of Lilian’s disregard and emotional bullying. Max appears and his simple regard for Emily as a person in her own right sets Emily blossoming. Max becomes the focus of Lilian’s need for control and Emily’s thirst for knowledge and acknowledgment.

“The voices still went on. She looked gain at the man, idly with more ease, at his eyes, and saw with a shock of profound surprise that his grey eyes were turned on her, and more than looking-seeing her, saluting her with a kind of serious friendliness as if he knew her…No one ever looked as if they saw her. “

Elizabeth Harrower’s prose is so precise. Her observations of her characters, phrase by phrase, builds up their personalities with such clarity.

“It was only necessary, she had discovered, for a person, place, or thing to be admired by her, to become the object of hilarity and scorn. They’d even laugh at Shakespeare, Emily thought, and when Mrs Salter and the head talked the way they did there was clearly something to him. But if she so much as mentioned Mrs Salter and Mr Wills in support of an argument they minced her up with smiling sarcasm, and laughed at the teachers, and laughed till she and the teachers shrank to dwarf-size. She burned with anger hot and gusty as a bushfire-an appalled, helpless kind of anger. For no one wanted to be just, and that’s till seemed-in spite of her theory of life and age-so unaccountable and alarming that her strength evaporated. They’d even laugh at God, she thought.”

Paula, Emily’s mother is putting in one of her rare visits from Sydney. She is glancing in at Max’s room.

“Books there were indeed-hundreds of books overflowing from the startled varnished shelves, books on chairs, books on the floor.

Paula was unable to hide her reluctant admiration for their quantity, but she mistrusted the implications of their possession. They seemed excessive, and she loathed excess. “

In just a few lines we have another layer to put on Paula.

The need for Lilian to be in control escalates, rumour and innuendo become fact. No one will be the same.

This is a brilliant study of people, good, bad and ugly. There is humour here, bound in barbed wire. ( )
  Robert3167 | Mar 23, 2016 |
A really great book - how could it have been out of print for so long? A portrait of Newcastle (in the early 1950s?). A boarding house relationship drama of the completely unexpected kind. Harrower is remarkably incisive in her use of dialogue and description of the characters' internal motivations. Sometimes it reads like theatre of pain. But there is also a fundamental, if dogged, dignity in the actions and thoughts of the characters Thea and Max that reminded me of John William's Stoner. ( )
1 vote PaulDalton | Mar 21, 2013 |
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The front door of Thea's flat was ajar so Lillian gave it a push and went in, her eyes on swivels.
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Emily Lawrence is only four years old when the unhappy marriage of her parents breaks up. She grows up under the careless guardianship in her grandmother's seedy boarding house in the depressing industrial town of Ballowra... a loose, decadent and sterile atmosphere where people commit themselves only to a superficial, slavish, conformity. ANd so Emily befriends Max - a middle-aged scientist who is convinced that she can find her goal in intellectual pursuits, that she has a "long prospect".

But others decide to be scandalised... and Emily is assailed by all the forces of suburban snobbery and philistinism that prevail around her.

Hailed by Christina Stead and many critics as Elizabeth Harrower's masterpiece, The Long Prospect is breathtaking for its delicate and precise observation of emotional detail.
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Sharply observed, bitter and humorous, The Long Prospect is a story of life in an Australian industrial town. Growing up neglected in a seedy boarding house, twelve-year-old Emily Lawrence befriends Max, a middle-aged scientist who encourages her to pursue her intellectual interests. Innocent Emily will face scandal, suburban snobbery and psychological torment. Originally published in 1958, The Long Prospect was described as ranking second only to Patrick White's Voss in postwar Australian literature.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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