Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior
In the rolling hills of beautiful Exmoor, there’s a barn. And in that barn, you’ll find Dan. He’s a maker of exquisite harps – but not a great maker of conversation. He’s content in his own company, quietly working and away from social situations that he doesn’t always get right.
But one day, a cherry-socked woman stumbles across his barn and the conversation flows a little more easily than usual. She says her name’s Ellie, a housewife, alone, out on her daily walk and, though she doesn’t say this, she looks sad. He wants to make her feel better, so he gives her one of his harps, made of cherry wood.
And before they know it, this simple act of kindness puts them on the path to friendship, big secrets, pet pheasants and, most importantly, true love.
I enjoyed Ellie and the Harpmaker. It was a good, easy read, most of the time.
Ellie is married to overbearing, to the point of being controlling and abusive (in my opinion), Clive. Ellie is a complete doormat and it is hard to like a doormat, though I did want her to get out of her marriage. Ellie thinks she’s happy but clearly isn’t. She has no self esteem, which she blames on her mother, and nothing in her life except for her husband, one friend he doesn’t like, a sister who lives far away, and writing bad poetry. Clive has made sure she has nothing else and must rely on him for everything. I found this part of the book hard to read because I so wanted Ellie to stand up for herself and see what was going on. I wanted her friend and her sister to say something. Everyone knew how horrible Clive was but no one did anything.
But, maybe that’s realistic and why it’s so hard to read about?
Ellie discovers a secluded barn one day where Dan, a (probably) autistic harpmaker lives and works. Ellie is in love with the harps and wants to learn. She feels the music so deeply, but her husband (of course) won’t let her have one. So, she goes to Dan’s while Clive is at work and learns to play the harp.
Dan is an interesting character. It’s not said, but he is clearly on the autism spectrum and is very rountined. He is a brilliant harpmaker and his sister takes care of the business aspect for him. He is observant, clever, and innocently wise. It’s easy to like him and get pulled into his observations about nature, stones, the sky, trees, etc. Some of these descriptions are wonderful.
Another great addition to the book is Phineas, a pheasant who is saved by Dan. The pheasant actually adds quite a bit to the book.
There is great tension in the book about the harp lessons and how/when Clive will find out and how he’ll react. There is also a budding attraction between Ellie and Dan.
Like I said, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it for a light, summer, kind of romance read. The writing is great and the descriptions are fantastic, especially of nature, music, and harpmaking.
Thank you to Netgalley and Bantam Press for the review copy.