Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ellie and the Harpmaker is just the kind of sweet and quirky British novel I adore, highlighting both the beautiful and the grit of real life, airbrushed a bit. Ellie is a closet creative who needs some joy in her life, and one day she meets Dan, who lives in the hills of Exmoor and builds harps. Dan loves to make harps. He names them. Dan is a very noticing and precise sort of person, only not the kind of noticing and precision that most people expect. He's not very interested in money, for instance; his sister manages his business for him. He's interested in wood and pebbles and in making harps. Celtic harps, not orchestra harps. Ellie admires a harp made from cherrywood; learning to play is one of her heart's desires, and Dan gives her the harp as a present, so she can learn to play. He tells Ellie his girlfriend can teach her, she's a professional harpist. But when Ellie gets home, her husband convinces her it's a wacko idea and she should return it. Dan has a problem with the idea of returning a gift; it's her harp, but she can leave it with him and take lessons at the barn, he suggests. Ellie is unsure of herself, but desperate for beauty and light in her life. From this desire, change and consequence fall like dominoes.
The tale is told in chapters that alternate voices, one Dan's and the other Ellie's. This is good, because it helps you understand from different points of view the rest of the motivations and actions that create quite a fine mess, soap opera style, before Ellie earns her happy ending. What is Dan's girlfriend hiding from him (other than the fact that she might not be his girlfriend anymore)?Just how controlling is Ellie's husband, and how much does she contribute to her own unhappiness? Does Ellie eventually learn to play the harp? Can Dan expand his interests to trains? These questions and more are answered in this beautifully written, noticing book. I enjoyed reading about the different resonances of wood, harp construction, and the simplicity of Dan very much. Highly recommended, especially for book clubs—so much to discuss!
Thanks to Netgalley and Berkley for an electronic galley to review.
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