Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Hazel Prior - Ellie and the Harp Maker

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.

Comment: I saw this book in some 2021 list about characters out of the ordinary and having liked other fiction/chick lit stories which had similar premises, I decided to take a chance on this one.

Ellie is a somehow lonely woman who feels adrift, with no real purpose. Her husband Clive earns enough that she doesn't have to work, which was a blessing when she was laid off, but now her days seem to be endless, with the same old routines. Things change when while on a hike around Exmoor she stumbles on Dan Hollis' barn, where he does his harps. Dan has a simple life and interests and his harp making keep him busy and in a routine he knows is essential for his well being. Ellie is a surprise and he decides to give her a harp, but her husband convinces her to give it back. When Ellie tries this, Dan tells her she can keep the harp in his barn and practice there if she wants. This secret of Ellie starts them off in a path which will have consequences they might not be able to cope with, or will they?

When I added this book to my TBR I confess my hope was that somehow Ellie and Dan would realize they could be a couple. Since Ellie is married, I foresaw some angst in the middle, some truths to face, but the fact is that while one could see this novel as the pre-romance stage - nothing romantic happens between Ellie and Dan - it still wasn't the story I imagined it would be. I won't say it was a bad story, because I did like it enough, but it didn't quite reach the emotional levels I wanted either.

Dan is clearly in the autistic spectrum, even though the word or anything related to his way of being isn't mentioned or referenced. I imagined this would add some layers to how the story would develop, such as I've seen happening in other books where a character was autistic (or had a similar condition), so I really wasn't expecting this larger than life romance or anything, but I still hoped for something more than what did happen. Of course, both Dan and Ellie have issues to deal in their lives, and romance is definitely not the main thing their minds throughout the novel, but... once a romance reader, romance is everywhere.

The story is told in alternate chapters from Ellie and Dan's POVs, third person. I usually like this style of storytelling, to me the best of both worlds, we can have an idea what the character is thinking, but not in the direct way of first person that often makes characters look silly for their thoughts. Well, unless the author is amazing. Anyway, I liked this choice because it's an easier way to follow the main characters and even guess what might happen, from their actions. For instance, Ellie makes an assumption which ends up being correct, and we get to see her act on it. If she had simply said it as narrator, it would feel way more intrusive than what I think already...

Ellie is a very complex character and, unlike Dan's own complexity, it's not because of how her brain works. From what we learn, Ellie is a slightly insecure woman, who got married to a manipulator, and while he was never aggressive towards her, we can guess he mined her confidence in other ways. We are also shown how they don't seem to match, but I did like it that the author didn't use this to better highlight her connection to Dan, as if he would be better by comparison; that certainly did not seem to be the goal. Still, I liked Ellie for the most part, and was rooting for her to finally understand what was in front of her.

Dan is complex, but simpler to read at the same time. His way of seeing life is pretty simple, but he does learn something that changes a lot for him. I think this element was an interesting addition and I thought most of the plot's conflict would be about that, but the reality is that things seemed to go into a sort of predictable path, and this didn't have to be a bad thing, if done well, but then the author comes up with a dramatic way of turning the story around and that is when she "lost" me a little.

Until, let's say, the 75% mark, I thought this was a solid 4 stars for me, most elements were fine, maybe could be better, but I still liked the way things were going. Then, the author decides to add one or two elements to twist the situation into something even more dramatic, and I felt it was too much. Things didn't have to go that way, that intensely, and it kind of brought the story to a lesser level, to me. 
The end is very vague, more along the lines of HFN considering what we see happen, and the apparent decisions the characters would make, but imagining this at will did not work for me, I would have preferred less drama and more definite decisions.
I might try something else by the author one day.
Grade: 7/10


  1. This one is definitely not for me.

    1. Hello!
      :) It is good there are endless books out there!