“The Harpy” by Megan Hunter

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Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

I’ll admit it, I requested this book because of the title – even the most tenuous Classics reference is enough to suck me in. I have been fascinated with Harpies ever since I was young. I don’t know if it’s because they are part bird or if it’s their sheer unadulterated, irrational feminine rage, but I’ve always thought they were really cool. Maybe that’s really strange but I’m guessing I’m not completely alone because Lucy, the main character in this story also shares this fascination.

Lucy finds out that her husband has been having an affair with an older co-worker. This betrayal causes her to look for ways to balance the scales, repaying her emotional pain with the infliction of physical harm on her husband, with his agreement. As a reader we get a deep insight into Lucy’s feelings about the affair, her husband, and her own identity as a mother. I think much of what Lucy feels will resonate with any woman in her 30s who has young children and has made sacrifices to put her husband and children first. If we don’t know this woman, we are this woman. Lucy is an intelligent and accomplished woman who has stepped back from her own potential so that her husband can progress his own. This makes his affair with a colleague all the more jarring and unfair.

This book is a rather twisted and disturbing exploration of a modern marriage and motherhood and it goes to some seriously dark places. It is quite interesting as so much of the events in the novel are couched in normal and mundane situations, which makes the events all the more startling taking place as they do in this environment of normality.

I found myself feeling deeply uncomfortable at various points in the book. It was difficult not to empathise with Lucy but at the same time she was not always easy to like and much of her actions seemed complete irrational. The story starts to unravel towards the end which perhaps correlates with Lucy’s own journey, but I felt like the novel’s coherence also started to come undone. This was perhaps a deliberate choice made by the author, but it just made everything rather silly and not in a good way.

I suspect this book will be deeply polarising to most readers, and I wonder if male readers will be much less sympathetic to Lucy’s situation than female readers, particularly those with husbands who are a waste of space and have found themselves in a similar situation to Lucy. I liked the interspersions of the Harpies and Lucy’s affinity to them and it was clear to see why they resonated with her to such a degree.

Overall, I felt that this was an interesting read, but I am not sure if it quite worked for me in the end. There is a point when a character’s reaction to the problems in their lives transcends any believable course of action. Touted as part revenge tale, part fairy-tale I’d say it achieves the revenge, the fairy-tale? Not so much.

 

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