Ellie and the Harpmaker is a lyrically written, delightfully charming story about two strangers--lost souls--drifting through their lives, until a harp brings them together.
Ellie Jacobs is a lonely housewife living in Exmoor, England. She is married to Clive, a pragmatic, domineering man who goes to work every day, is obsessed with football and finance, and shows little interest in--or understanding about--Ellie's flowery poetic pursuits and search for meaning in life. One day, on a walk through the West English countryside, while reflecting upon the first anniversary of her beloved father's death, Ellie stumbles upon a place she's never seen before: the Harp Barn. There, she meets Dan Hollis, the "Exmoor Harpmaker," an unusually gentle and deeply sensitive 33-year-old who spends most of his time alone, crafting exquisite Celtic-style, traditional wooden harps. Dan takes utmost pride in his work. He also feels the experiences of life very deeply, but exhibits a limited range of expression. Simple pleasures in life--as well as an appreciation for the beauty of nature and the inhabitants therein--grant him a sense of purpose and enrichment. But is that truly enough?
When Ellie shares the special significance of the day with Dan--and how learning to play the harp is actually on her things to accomplish "before-forty list"--Dan kindly offers Ellie a gift: a harp beautifully carved out of red-gold cherrywood. Ellie is overwhelmed and thrilled by Dan's generosity, but her joy is dashed when she returns home and Clive demands she return the harp. Dan, however, refuses to take back the gift. He tells Ellie that the harp is hers and "always would be," and that she can visit the Harp Barn any time she chooses and play the instrument. He also gives her the name of his ex-girlfriend--a glamorously beautiful professional harp player--who will give Ellie harp lessons, if she'd like. Knowing Clive as she does, Ellie chooses not to tell her husband about this arrangement with Dan.
Keeping this secret forges an uncharacteristic sense of independence in Ellie, yet ultimately leads to conflict and escalating complications. Clive's will and Dan's will ultimately pull Ellie in opposite directions. This calls into question her beliefs about herself and her marriage, while also raising inquiries into the many mysteries of Dan's life. By doing so, she and Dan are both forced to retune their friendship, as well as those with quirky, lovable family and friends who serve as sounding boards and devil's advocates for both protagonists in their quests toward achieving fulfillment and peace.
By telling the story from two intimate points of view, debut novelist Hazel Prior allows readers simultaneously to discover startling truths right along with her well-drawn characters. This approach heightens the narrative tension and allows this beautiful, tender story about the harmonious meaning of true friendship and love to reverberate with many unexpected surprises. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines.
Shelf Talker: A harp causes two lonely Brits, stalled by fate and the choices they've made in life, to forge a deep, life-changing friendship.