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.

The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2020

I cannot believe the year is halfway over. Being perfectly honest, I haven’t so far had the best of reading years. I was considering not doing this tag for the first time since I have my blog but that felt too sad.

Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2020

I am trying to rank all the books I am reading this year (surprisingly hard!) and one of the things that I am struggling with is my top spot. At the moment it is between The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy and Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe. I cannot yet say which one will ultimately win out but I can say now that both of these books are incredible in their own way.

Continue reading “The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2020”

TBR: ARCs on my shelves part I (2020)

I have not felt the need to write up a post like this in quite some time – but I have quite a few ARCs now that I am super excited for and want to share that excitement. For many reasons, I am even worse at following TBRs than I used to be but some of these books I am so very much looking forward to that I am hoping to read and review these books before their publication date for a change.

49385085._sy475_The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mantel

Picador, April 30th

Station Eleven by the same author is one of my all-time favourite books, so you can imagine how excited I am that this newest book of hers is getting rave reviews. I need to carve out a day to immerse myself in what is likely to be one of my favourite books of the year.

47545450._sy475_Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

Hamish Hamilton, May 7th

I really enjoy Mackintosh’s debut novel and am currently loving this one – I am about a quarter of the way through. Her prose is even better than in her first novel and I love the way in which she uses dystopian settings to explore human behaviour. People looking for a more classical dystopian novel are bound to be disappointed – but I get the feeling that this is just not the type of writer Mackintosh is.

44778722._sy475_The Shapeless Unease by Samantha Harvey

Grove Atlantic, May 12th

This is a non-fiction book about the author’s struggle with insomnia. I have read the first few pages and it seems like just my type of book. It is just the right mix of personal and experimental that I really appreciate in creative nonfiction.

52272255._sx318_sy475_Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

Bloomsbury Publishing, May 14th

A book about a failed PhD student, obsession, and poisonous plants sounds like it could be perfect for me. I am hoping for difficult women and introspective narration.

50186889._sx318_sy475_Sisters by Daisy Johnson

Jonathan Cape, July 2nd

I adored, adored Johnson’s debut and have been looking forward to her next book ever since. Her prose and imagination are just perfect and her brand of magical realism really works for me. I am beyond excited for this one, which focusses two sisters and their complicated relationship.

43301992Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford

Grove Atlantic, July 24th

The cover drew me in and then the blurb featured this brilliant sentence: “Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world—of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces, like wildfires and tornados—intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home.” – and I could not not request this. I love stories about familial relationships and I am interested in the influence religious devotion can have on those.

51541496._sx318_sy475_Luster by Raven Leilani

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, August 4th

Honestly, this novel about a twenty-something woman getting caught up in a couple’s open marriage sounds like it could be similar to The Pisces, which is always enough to convince me to try a book – I have been chasing that high since reading Broder’s magnificent book about a horrible woman.

48637753._sy475_The Harpy by Megan Hunter

Grove Atlantic, August 11th

Again, a book by an author whose debut I really enjoyed, this also has possibly my favourite cover of the year. The premise of a woman whose husband has cheated on her and in return has agreed to be hurt by her three times sounds incredible – coupled with Hunter’s strong prose, this could be a favourite for me.

Review: The End We Start From – Megan Hunter

32991198My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Date Read: 2 August 2017

Published by Grove Atlantic, November 2017

Verdict: Beautifully and frustratingly sparse.

Find it on Goodreads.

As London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place, shelter to shelter, to a desolate island and back again. The story traces fear and wonder, as the baby’s small fists grasp at the first colors he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.

Written with poise and poeticism, The End We Start From is an indelible and elemental first book—a lyrical vision of the strangeness and beauty of new motherhood, and a portentous tale of endurance in the face of ungovernable change.

Beautifully and frustratingly sparse. This book is written in absolutely stunning prose that in places feels like poetry. It is stylistically wonderful – its sparseness works great in conveying the way the world has shrunk around the protagonist; minimizing her field of vision around the essentials: her new-born son and her husband.

Set in the not so distant future when the oceans have risen dramatically and drowned much of England, the main character has just given birth to her son when she has to leave London to go North. We follow her from place to place, meeting people, losing people, finding people. The plot is near irrelevant though: it is more a meditation on motherhood, on beginnings and endings, on love and loss. All the characters are only referred to by their initials, leaving the reader at a distance and rendering this very personal tale universal.

I adored the way this book was told; I enjoyed the juxtaposition of motherhood and the end-times and I found many sentences beautiful beyond words. It was a highly satisfying reading experience – however, I am not sure how much of it will stick with me. The book is too short and sparse to really tell a story and the language while stunning does not help the feeling of detachment. The book is full with metaphors and foreshadowing and mixes the personal and the universal in a highly stylized matter. But sometimes I like books told in style and glitter and beautiful sentences. Here I did.

First sentence: “I am hours from giving birth, from the event I thought would never happen to me, and R has gone up a mountain.”
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I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!