Review: The Harpy by Megan Hunter

48637753._sy475_Verdict: Weird, baffling, incredibly well-written, let down by the ending.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published by Grove Press, November 13th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

Lucy and Jake live in a house by a field where the sun burns like a ball of fire. Lucy has set her career aside in order to devote her life to the children, to their finely tuned routine, and to the house itself, which comforts her like an old, sly friend. But then a man calls one afternoon with a shattering message: his wife has been having an affair with Lucy’s husband, Jake. The revelation marks a turning point: Lucy and Jake decide to stay together, but make a special arrangement designed to even the score and save their marriage–she will hurt him three times.

As the couple submit to a delicate game of crime and punishment, Lucy herself begins to change, surrendering to a transformation of both mind and body from which there is no return.

Told in dazzling, musical prose, The Harpy is a dark, staggering fairy tale, at once mythical and otherworldly and fiercely contemporary. It is a novel of love, marriage and its failures, of power, control and revenge, of metamorphosis and renewal.

Megan Hunter’s prose is as spell-binding as ever. I really enjoyed her debut but knew even as I read it that it would not stick with me: “But sometimes I like books told in style and glitter and beautiful sentences.” This book is different – the prose is deliberately over the top and overwritten, stunningly so, but still A LOT, whereas The End We Start From was deliberately sparse in a way that I prefered. However, this book has stuck with me and I cannot quite stop thinking about it. It is so very clever but was ultimately, for me at least, let down by its vague ending that did not work as well as the unflinching honesty the rest of the book possessed. I rounded up my rating anyways because of the aforementioned cleverness.

Told from a close first person narration by Lucy, as former PhD-student of the Classics who now lives her life as a stay-at-home mum of two who occasionally free-lances, this book is a look at motherhood and relationships. The book starts with Lucy finding out that her husband has been cheating on her and them agreeing to her being allowed to hurt him, three times. Interspersed are prose-poem like asides about harpies, the subject of Lucy’s abandoned PhD project. Lucy is, before everything else, resentful; resentful of the way her life has turned out, resentful of her husband, resentful of the other parents at her children’s school, and yes, often resentful of the time her children demand of her. Jake is not a bad man, he is present and an active part in their children’s lives but still – most of the mind-numbingly boring parts of motherhood are managed by Lucy alone – driving the children to school and to their different activities, making sure they have snacks, that they are clothed properly and so on, and Lucy resents that. It feels like she is even a little bit relieved when Jake’s affair comes to light because it gives her anger a focus, a reasonable excuse to give in to the swirling feelings she has. Lucy is difficult to root for because she is so grimly unhappy and humourlessly mean – but she is also stuck in a situation she never wanted to be in and as such I could not help but feel for her. Her husband has the job she was on a trajectory on, being a university lecturer at an unnamed university (it does feel like either Oxford or Cambridge from the way their town is described), her ambition left her but not enough for her to be happy with her life as it is.

Content warning: self-harm, alcohol abuse, cheating, domestic abuse, vomit, suicide

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

7 thoughts on “Review: The Harpy by Megan Hunter

  1. I’m surprised you gave this 4 stars based on the times you were livetexting me about it! But, I’m glad it mostly worked for you. I’m so on the fence about this – it sounds like so my kind of book, other than the motherhood angle. Hmmm. Well I have an ARC so I will probably give it a try.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I initially gave this 3 stars but I cannot stop thinking about it. Her description of motherhood feels so real. And I do like the deliberate mirroring she does. So I went with 4 stars in the end because, well, apparently clever writing and great prose is all I look for in litfic? And the writing is SO good, I thought, even if it really is quite overwritten. But it works! (I don’t know whether you’ll like it – the motherhood angle is very prevalent but the myth angle should work for you?)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, sorry to see the ending didn’t live up to the rest for you! So much of this sounds intriguing that I’m still eager to check it out, but it’s good to know not to expect too much of the end. Great review!


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