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Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Elizabeth Harrower on Circular Quay

June 24, 2012

When I reviewed Elizabeth Harrower‘s The watch tower the other day I wanted to fill it up with quotes from the book because her writing is so delicious. And that means, of course, that it is perfect for a Delicious Descriptions post. The one I’ve chosen occurs at the end of Part 2 (of three parts). I like it because it, albeit briefly, describes place – central Sydney in the mid 1950s – as well as one of the characters – Clare. It’s quite a long quote but here goes:

… The well-dressed, prosperous crowds pushed off the ferry, slipped coins into the ancient turnstiles and clanged through, out onto the concourse of the Quay.

Even as early as this, the small shops were busy – the bread kiosks, milk-bars, dry-cleaners and delicatessans. And he was at his usual post. He recognised her as she went towards him. Every week he looked smaller in his loose navy-blue uniform, and frailer and dustier; every week she thought he would be missing.

The morning breeze that lifted her hair and flapped the old man’s uniform was seaweedy and salty. Traffic rumbled. People ran. Clare stood before the old man and let some shillings drop into his box. The small Salvation Army soldier watched her and she watched his lips and weak blue eyes, waiting, determined. (Yet she might be rebuffed.)

‘God bless you,’ he said simply, looking at her like a child.

Oh! — Clare relaxed. ‘Thank you,’ she murmured. She was blessed, who was most in need of blessing. Blessed.

Having received what she had paid for, she moved on.

I love what this says about Clare’s desperation … and how Harrower conveys it through such a normally mundane scene. She shows how a typical, simple transaction becomes something way more while busy, purposeful Sydney life goes on around it, unaware, reflecting the world’s oblivion to what Laura and Clare are submitted to, day in and day out. I also like the sense of the giver being desperate to receive. Finally, it shows how Harrower can build up tension. Who is he? Why is she going towards him?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2012 11:00 pm

    Lovely! Circular Quay is one of my all-time favourite places and this was a bustling accurate description, makes me feel homesick! I also must thank you for the Deborah Robertson recommendation if I haven’t already – ‘Careless’ was a great read.

  2. June 25, 2012 8:49 am

    From this and the full review, I must read Harrower! Apart from the good writing, there is a pleasure in reading about places you know well, albeit at a different time. But I was taken up a bit short by the links. Perhaps readers in the know get an extra layer of visual truth from the description, but does it really matter if others don’t have an exact picture in their mind of what Quay this is, or if they don’t know exactly what the Salvation Army is?

    • June 25, 2012 2:10 pm

      I think you’d like her Judith … And at $12.95 it’s hard to beat.

      As for the links … That’s a good question. My feeling is that they can’t hurt …if you know, or don’t want to know, you can ignore them but they are there if you want to explore further. A bit like footnotes, or endnotes, in popular histories. Some readers feel they must read them all while others don’t give two hoots. Did you find them distracting or were you commenting in the spirit of enquiry and our recent discussions about reviews? Perhaps links on quotes IS going too far!?

      • June 25, 2012 5:23 pm

        Partly because of our recent discussions and also because I did find it odd to have links in a quote.

        • June 25, 2012 8:14 pm

          Fair enough … I might decide in future not to link words in quotes. It has crossed my mind on and off but your raising it makes me think again. Thanks!

  3. June 25, 2012 8:45 pm

    And what will happen if, one day, he isn’t there?!

    • June 25, 2012 8:48 pm

      She won’t be blessed! Seriously, I think her life would have lost one of its little anchors.

  4. June 27, 2012 2:22 am

    What a marvelous description. I can see the scene in my mind’s eye, imagine the smell of the air, the sounds too. I love that!

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  1. The Watch Tower, by Elizabeth Harrower « ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

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