The Harpy by Megan Hunter – Book review

The Harpy! What a book! It’s been a long time since I’ve related and not related in equal measures to a lead character like this. If that makes any sense? Probably not. Let me explain.

Opening sentence: It is the last time.

An intricate study

Our narrator, Lucy discovers that her husband, Jake has been having an affair with his colleague and the story is all around her processing this. It also explores motherhood, guilt, anger, obsession and weaves in the imagery and stories of the mythical harpy to wonderfully do this.

There is a trail of anger flowing through my bloodline, from my great-grandmother, to my grandmother, to my mother, to me.

Lucy and Jake decide to try and salvage their relationship and reach an unusual pact. Lucy is allowed to hurt Jake three times and then they’re even for his affair – which he swears is now over. She is creative in how she does this; her hurt runs deep and using this method as an outlet is cathartic for her, until it becomes dangerous.

Motherhood in all its realness

In my intro when I said I related, it was Lucy’s take on motherhood (rather than the affair part) that I found myself whole-heartedly feel:

A children’s party, like a death, is never real until it is happening. It cannot truly be planned, or imagined. It is always unexpected.

Lucy has two young sons and this book captures the frustrating yet love-filled paradox of parenting perfectly. Her character is so beautifully constructed that she feels so real and I was so engaged in her story – complete with all its seamless harpy references.

The Myth of the Harpy

So, what is a harpy? Well, they are mythical half woman, half bird creatures, never conveyed in a positive light, mainly out for revenge. (Find out more about them here.)

I asked my mother what a harpy was; she told me that they punish men, for the things they do.

Lucy has a fascination with them, so there are lots of versions of the fantastical harpy stories throughout and the imagery is used so effectively to convey Lucy’s thoughts and feelings, all building to the unexpected but perfect climax that had me totally gripped!

The Harpy is exquisitely written, I love Megan Hunter’s tone and her unique story – I fell for it completely. Once I’d finished I just wanted to read it again. It’s been a while since a book has evoked that reaction in me – that’s how good I thought it was.

Also, look at that cover – how can you not love a book with a cover like that?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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