In my quest to read books set in Australia and New Zealand before my trip there next month I have encountered some interesting books. When I was sent a copy of In Certain Circles I realized the story behind the novel is almost more fascinating than the book itself. Decades after it was written, this quiet novel is finally seeing the light of day.
In Certain Circles
by Elizabeth Harrower
Set in Sydney, we meet two sets of siblings, Zoe and Russell, a wealthy pair whose lives are brimming with possibility and then Stephen and Anna, who are from a lower class and recently orphaned. We follow the four characters through a few decades of their lives. Despite their best efforts their paths cross and crisscross again and again. Zoe and Russell both leave for Europe, but eventually find themselves back in Sydney. Anna and Stephen must work to make ends meet, their options much more limited because of their situations.
The book has a distant feel that radiates from every page. Even when I was reading about what a character was thinking I still didn’t feel like I understood why they felt that way. It was also odd that all the major action of the book, falling in love, weddings, death, etc. seems to happen off screen. All we see as the reader is the aftermath and the quiet reflection of the decisions. That’s not always a bad thing, but in this case it just felt like you were missing crucial parts of the story.
BOTTOM LINE: Some of the writing was beautiful and profound, but the stiff nature of the novel left me feeling cold. I wished I’d had the chance to get to know the characters better. I felt like I was never welcome into their certain circles.
“When you head anyone rave on about the problems of youth, you want to say: wait till they’re adults! As if “growing up” finished when you were twenty-one. Or forty.”
“Social behavior was just another way of telling lies.”
“She wrote: I wish – And crossed it out. She wrote: I hope – And crossed it out. She wrote in very small letters, as though she meant to hide them even from herself: Goodbye.”
**I received a review copy for an honest review.