Ellie and the Harpmaker is a lovely, sweet, charming story about love and friendship. Ellie is a woman in an unhappy marriage to a controlling, abusive husband. Dan is a reclusive harp maker who likes his privacy and his routines, until Ellie walks into his shop. He offers Ellie a harp of her own, and unbeknownst to her husband, she comes into his shop daily for lessons, thereby discovering a part of herself that she’d been forced to keep hidden but that gives her a dose of daily happiness.
The novel is written in a genteel, almost fabulistic style. Ellie is drawn to Dan’s shop because of the magic in his craft, and in the friendship that develops between them, and Prior certainly weaves a spell of just that magic for the reader. The novel tackles some serious issues — domestic abuse, a secret that upends a character’s life — yet it all does so with a somewhat hazy, rosy glow. Just as Ellie loses herself in the melodies she can create through her harp, so do can we readers lose ourselves in the world Prior has created, an isolated, idyllic place where a lonely poet and a harp maker can form a connection.
Something about the relationship between Ellie and Dan reminds me a bit of gentle British romances, like Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Despite the undeniable physical attraction between them, the chemistry isn’t at all fiery. The lasting impression one receives is that of a deep and binding friendship rather than a romance.
The book is a bit of a slow burn. To be honest, it was difficult at times to tell if Ellie and Dan really liked each other, or if they just each offered the other a chance to escape a particular kind of life. Dan is also incredibly naive about relationships — at one point, he completely misunderstands a long-term relationship, in a way that felt a bit more like Forrest Gump than Don Tillman. That reveal just made me more sad than anything, because he was deceived by someone important in his life, but it also made me uncomfortable how Ellie kept digging into his back story without his knowledge or consent.
So the romance in this book didn’t really hook me, but I love the development of Ellie and Dan’s friendship. I love the setting, and I love the descriptions of the harps and the potential they have to make people happy.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.