national Arts Festival Banner

Friday, August 23, 2019


A delightfully-written book which meanders with much sensitivity and humour through the relationship between two dreamers. (Review by Caroline Smart)

On the front cover of her book, Ellie and the Harp Maker, author Hazel Prior makes this comment: “Sometimes it takes a chance encounter to discover what your life can be …”

This “chance encounter” forms the basis of a delightfully-written book which meanders with much sensitivity and humour through the relationship between two dreamers who live in Exmoor.

A housewife married to Clive, an impatient, bossy man known to violent temper, Ellie Jacobs is the more grounded one. On her bucket list before she turns 40 is the desire to learn the harp. Something she has accepted is probably never going to happen.

Dan Hollis is definitely not of the world of logic, commerce or social interaction. He is a passionate harp-maker and has been making small Celtic-style traditional harps since he was ten under the guidance of his harp-maker father. He’s also committed to counting toadstools and stairs and making sandwiches at the drop of a hat and cutting them into different shapes and sizes!

However, they both share a deep love of the outdoors and it was on one of her wanderings that Ellie comes across the remote barn of The Exmoor Harp Maker. They take an instinctive liking to each other and, hearing of Ellie’s wish to learn the harp, Dan gives her a cherry wood one (inspired by the colour of her socks). She is ecstatic but when she takes it home, her husband flatly refuses to allow her to accept it and insists that she returns it.

Dan is equally insistent that the harp is hers and says it can stay at the barn and she can come and learn to play it whenever she wants to – even if it sits there for the rest of its life.

This starts the beginning of a problematic process. Ellie cannot bring herself to tell Clive what she is going to do and one deception leads to another, eventually building up to an explosive conclusion.

The chapters alternate between Ellie and Dan. They are short – about four pages each – and the story swings from one to the other, giving us the opportunity to see things from their various viewpoints. Their characters are so well-drawn in their thoughts and actions that if the book were to be made into a film, the casting director would have a perfect description for each of them.

Prior understands the human psyche well and writes accordingly. Amidst the pain of broken relationships and the desperation of forlorn marriages there is the joy and pride of discovering the reason for a long-hidden secret. Also, the heartwarming process of the growth of two like-minded people, despite their different natures.

There is quirky humour aplenty. One of the most hilarious sections is when Dan undergoes an interview with a radio reporter who has a great deal of difficulty in getting a straight answer out of him! A pheasant named Phineas also plays an important part!

The final scene is pure delight!

Produced by Bantam Press, Ellie and the Harp Maker is published by Penguin Random House. Retail selling price is R290. ISBN: 9781787630925 – Caroline Smart