book review: Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry


Penguin, 2016

Maybe all the lukewarm reviews I’d seen actually worked in my favor for this one, because I was pleasantly surprised by Under the Harrow. In fact, this is probably my favorite thriller that I’ve read all year – though it’s less a thriller than it is an examination of one woman’s grief. Maybe those who were underwhelmed by it were expecting a bit more excitement, but I thought the unsettling atmosphere more than made up for it.

Under the Harrow is a dark, bleak, melancholy book that transported me instantly to the English countryside where it’s set. One day Nora is on her way from London to visit her sister Rachel, but when she arrives at the house, she finds that Rachel has been brutally murdered. (There’s also an upsetting scene involving animal death, so, proceed with caution.) In the following weeks Nora stays in Marlow to help with the investigation, but unable to know who she can trust, her sense of isolation grows alongside her paranoia.

I can’t even emphasize how palpable Nora’s grief and loneliness are in this book from start to finish – it was so evocative I started to feel like my own sister had just been murdered, and I’m an only child. Nora’s relationship with Rachel was so real to me – I was surprised by how much nuance Flynn Berry was able to pack into this short little book. Though it’s a very introspective story, as we spend the majority of it inside Nora’s head, I didn’t think it was slow at all. I was captivated by the tension from the very first page. I wasn’t able to guess any of the twists, either, which I love (though some twists I liked more than others, and there are a couple of points which I felt could have used a bit more development or explanation, hence the 4 stars rather than 5… though it’s more like a 4.5, really).

The audiobook was a good choice here, I think. The prose itself was occasionally quite staccato in a way which I think would have irritated me more if I’d been reading it, but it suited the narrator’s speaking voice and sounded quite natural. I’d highly recommend it if you’re thinking about reading this.

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