The Harpy by Megan Hunter – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 3rd September 2020

I’m writing this review having just closed this book around 5 minutes ago. It’s always a good sign that I adored a book if I start writing the review straight away whilst the excitement for it is still fizzing in my veins!

I featured The Harpy by Megan Hunter in my Most Anticipated Books Of 2020 post and boy was I right to! (Pats self on the back). At the time of writing that blog post I couldn’t find an image of the cover but not long after I saw a tweet from Camilla Elworthy showing the absolutely stunning cover design and my excitement for this book ramped up a pace! I just CAN’T STOP LOOKING AT IT! It’s beautiful.

I should also just mention that I am writing this post on a dark and miserable January evening knowing full well that I won’t be publishing it until much nearer to publication. However when this book dropped through my letterbox I just had to read it straight away. I ain’t about that ‘wait until nearer the time’ life! Delayed gratification is not my vibe.

The Harpy opens with Lucy discovering that her husband Jake has been having an affair with one of his work colleagues, Vanessa. Lucy receives a telephone call from Vanessa’s husband who drops the bombshell on Lucy and turns her life completely on its head.

When Lucy confronts Jake he admits to it and tells her the relationship was just about sex and that he is going to end it for the sake of Lucy and their two young sons.

When Lucy accidentally scratches Jake’s arm during their conversation, Luke makes the suggestion that maybe Lucy should hurt him three times as retribution for his fling.

It is agreed that they will stay together but Lucy has the power to hurt Jake in any way she sees fit at any point she wants, with absolutely no prior warning. However, she can only do this a maximum of 3 times. After this the ‘score’ will be considered settled and they will move on with their lives together.

What follows on from here is Lucy’s attempts at dealing her unfaithful husband as much pain as he has caused her. She battles to keep the home life of their two young boys on as even a keel as possible whilst trying to work from home and battle the demons inside her head centering around her husbands betrayal.

With each of the punishments meted out, the power shifts almost imperceptibly between the two of them with Lucy struggling to gain enough satisfaction from each of the punishments she doles out.

You may think that The Harpy is retelling a trope which has been done to death. Woman discovers husband is having an affair, woman is upset, husband vows to end it, they stay together for the sake of the kids etc etc

BUT you’d be totally and utterly incorrect and I’ll tell you why…..

Interspersed between the short sharp contemporary chapters, Lucy is slowly revealed as having had a fascination with Harpies from being quite young. The dictionary definition of a ‘Harpy’ is:

GREEK & ROMAN MYTHOLOGY

a rapacious monster described as having a woman’s head and body and a bird’s wings and claws or depicted as a bird of prey with a woman’s face.

The book gives us this passage:

When I was a child, there was a book – out of print now, expensive – about a unicorn who went into the sea and became a narwhal. The book had beautiful illustrations, dark blue seas, peach pale evening skies. But the picture I remembered best was of the harpies: dark shadows, birds with women’s faces, who came down to torture the unicorn, to make him suffer. I asked my mother what a harpy was; she told me that they punish men, for the things they do.

As Lucy quietly and almost stoicly deals with this huge devastations and betrayal, there are no histrionics. She is vengeful yet calmly so, which in tern lends the narrative a sinister edge. Her marriage has been ripped apart and yet she can’t fathom ever leaving Jake, instead finding herself metamorphosing into a harpie’s way of thinking. Dishing out punishment in vengeful acts against a person who has utterly betrayed her.

Megan Hunter’s writing is stunningly beautiful and lyrical with an undercurrent of dread pulsing right through it. This is a quietly dark novel which bubbles with tension and takes you on a journey deeper and deeper into the psyche of a woman scorned.

There is nothing more fascinating to me than an exploration of a fractured marriage and the quiet rage of women. This is an utterly compelling novel which will for sure be on my books of the year list come December.

The ending is open to interpretation which I absolutely adored. Nothing is set in stone or tied up neatly in a bow. Bloody brilliant!

Megan Hunter has absolutely nailed it with this study of love, betrayal and retribution and The Harpy will be a book I continue to recommend for a long time to come.

As always thank you to the publisher for my review copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

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