Book review: Hap by Lesley Beake

Credit: Supplied
Credit: Supplied

Hap by Lesley Beake (first published in 2017 by Tafelberg)

I'm going to start by saying that Hap by Lesley Beake absolutely deserves gold for the 2017 Sanlam Youth literature Prize. In this tale, we discover the world according to Lucy, 16, who's been packed off by her mum in NYC to go spend a few weeks with her father, Peter, in South Africa.

Peter is busy on a dig on the West Coast, somewhere near Lambert's Bay (that's about all I can find out about the location of Barclay Bay). 

It's quite a change from the air-conditioned apartment in the city, but Lucy needs her space. She's recently had something awful happen to her, and needs time and space to remember and deal with the event.

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The entire novel seems to exist in a dream-like state – and there's not much that happens beyond Lucy reconciling with her (relatively) absent father, working through her own dark teatime (being rejected by your mother is a terrible thing) and then the events that happen on the dig. 

We have a large-ish cast of wonderfully eccentric secondary characters who add interest and some conflict to the narrative. There's a storm. The descriptions of the environment are absolutely gorgeous.

And then there are the sort-of visions that Lucy has about the enigmatic Hap, her counterpart who lived here many thousands of years ago. 

I loved the fact that it's left open-ended as to whether Lucy merely had an active imagination or whether she in fact did tap into a distant past.

This is a story about life, and about the connections made between people, and how even though thousands of years separate us from our ancestors, we still have the same needs – to be loved and to endure. 

And it's also about connecting to that sense of belonging and being part of the land that has formed our bones.

I enjoyed seeing Lucy gradually unfold – and this very much is a novel about coming to terms with hurt and moving beyond it – a story containing subject matter that is often difficult to write about sensitively. (A hint: Beake nails this, BTW. Much better than many authors I've seen over the past while.)

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Hap will stay with me for a long, long time. It might be because I already have a massive interest in archaeology – so having a novel immersed in the day-to-day (and rather unglamorous) doings of archaeologists most certainly worked for me. 

Lucy herself may be at times be self-absorbed (but it's understandable why), but her perceptions of the world around her and the people with whom she interacts make for a fully immersive story.

Beake's writing is lyrical and evocative, and I cannot recommend this book enough – whether you are a teen or a teen-at-heart.

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Read more of Nerine’s reviews on her book blog.

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