Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

harry potter and the cursed child - book coverI haven’t reviewed any plays on my blog here before, but with all the hype around the release of and my own nostalgic affection for the novels, it seemed like the perfect place to break with tradition. The most difficult thing about reading a play is that much of what transpires is meant to be literally seen; thinking of it or treating it as a novel isn’t quite fair. But I should hope that in reading it I would at least be inspired to want to see it on stage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

The play begins where the book and movies ended—on Platform 9 ¾ as Harry and Ginny’s son Albus prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for his first year. There are several time jumps that then take place in rapid succession advancing the present to Albus’ third year—making him thirteen—and it’s clear that Albus’ relationship with Harry is strained at best. Harry isn’t thrilled with Albus’ friendship with Scorpius Malfoy and Albus resents the expectations and attention he receives as the son of Harry Potter—it isn’t fair. As rumors circulate that the Ministry of Magic has confiscated a Time-Turner (which were supposed to have all been destroyed), Amos Diggory shows up with an appeal for Harry to travel back in time and intervene to prevent Cedric from ever having been killed during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Harry refuses but Albus overhears and decides he wants to help right an injustice he sees as being Harry’s fault. But of course, terrible things can happen to those who meddle with time.

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Book Review – The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

book cover - casual vacancy

The world wondered what J.K. Rowling would write in the wake of the Harry Potter phenomenon. She responded with The Casual Vacancy, about as great a departure from the magically engaging boy wizard as one can get. There were many with high expectations going into this novel and I’m sure many were “disappointed,” though perhaps “shocked” would be a better word for it (Rowling shows she is not afraid to use profane language that would probably have gotten students banned from Hogwarts). While the difference in tone, subject matter, and style are initially jarring to anyone so familiar with the series that made her famous, Rowling’s command of these characters along with her management of so many interconnected issues and perspectives, demonstrate her depth and skill as a writer better than the Harry Potter series.

The delicate balance of power in the small town of Pagford is violently upset with the untimely death of Barry Fairbrother. As several citizens vie for the vacant seat on the parish council, their lives and motivations are examined, as well as those of their family and friends. The central issues at stake are the fate of a low-income housing area known as The Fields and an addiction treatment facility, Bellchapel. Delicate maneuvering decades earlier left many in the small town feeling betrayed and resentful. With an open seat and crucial council votes approaching, an opportunity to act on the long festering grudge may be at hand. But even as members of the town consider a move towards the way things were, the realities of modern life refuse to be ignored as the town council’s website and message board become the target of upsetting anonymous posts.

Rowling’s presentation of the town and its citizens is unsettling in an ingenious way. A multitude of voices and perspectives blindside the reader, forcing attention to be paid as the relationships between characters and their places in the town are demonstrated gradually. The reader becomes an outsider who must work for understanding. It is also not easy to latch onto any of the characters. They all have their endearing moments of weakness as well as their thoughts or actions that inspire disgust and disdain.

Setting the politics of the novel aside, what the story really boils down to, at least, for me, is interpersonal relationships, primarily those between parents and their children. Though the chasm between the handful of teenagers and their equally self-involved parents is obvious, Rowling shows that with age and maturity, those relationships don’t necessarily change. The way that she is able to demonstrate the pervasive inability and/or reluctance to communicate, to sympathize, to admit the truth, is incredible. It is both enlightening and depressing which only goes to show how realistic her writing and genuine her insights are. The tragedy of The Casual Vacancy is that those who are held accountable aren’t always the only ones involved in events that transpire. Everyone is, in his or her own way, accountable and people are defined by how and whether or not they take responsibility.

A controversial follow up to the Harry Potter series, The Casual Vacancy can be harder to immerse yourself in initially, but is brutally honest in the depth to which it captures modern issues and modern living, marking definitively that Rowling can leave the fantasy world behind when reality needs to be confronted.

The Real World Inside Your Head: Revisiting the Magic of Childhood through Harry Potter

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” – Albus Dumbledore Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

 

So my hiatus lasted longer than I intended. We’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming next week with my weekly reviews and some more flash fiction. I wish I could say that I managed to get a lot done in the last month and a half but it still isn’t as much as I would have liked to accomplish. I did manage to re-read all seven Harry Potter books before seeing the final film last weekend and plan to continue my summer of re-reading. There are a few realizations that came to me while re-reading, most of which made me laugh though they’re probably common enough.

 

I was surprised by both how much I’d managed to remember and how much I’d forgotten. The things I remembered best were the bits of the books I had most been looking forward to seeing on the big screen as was disappointed with, either because they were left out or because they had been changed in a way I didn’t appreciate. It was only with the benefit of hindsight that I was able to appreciate the way Rowling dropped little pieces of information through the novels that weren’t relevant until the later books. Characters mentioned in passing in one book that grew in importance with each subsequent novel. Of course, with months or years between being able to read each book the first time, many of these tidbits slipped from memory having little perceived importance. I could have re-read the previous book just before the release of the next but I’m not sure reading all seven in succession would have been quite so spectacular if I had.

 

For the most part my favorites remained my favorites (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was, is and I believe will always be my favorite, both with the books and the films). But it did amaze me that I had a harder time getting through what was one of my favorites the first time around. After waiting so long, I flew through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with my first reading. But now I see how much of that came from the simple desire to uncover what came next. It appeared to cloud my perception of certain characters. At least, I want that to be the reason I didn’t register how whiney Harry was in that novel. It could also have been that during those days a few weeks before I turned sixteen Harry’s I was more sympathetic to Harry’s frustration and angst.

 

On a parallel note, one of the books I’d found a little tedious the first time through was more enjoyable the second time through. With so much going on, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire feels like the odd-man-out in many ways but now I’m able to appreciate that it is because it stands as the turning point of the series. As the middle book, it divides the series into two halves. The more lighthearted and innocent antics of the first three books have a cushiony barrier between them and the darker, dire circumstances of the later three. It is also the novel where Rowling first proves that she is not afraid of killing characters off, though she does a wonderful job of easing her young readers into the ideas that those who are evil aren’t the only ones to die in battle, the way a person acts doesn’t always show you what they’re feeling, and that people don’t always get what they deserve.

 

I would have thought that I’d fly through my re-reading since I already knew what happened, but instead I found myself lingering over phrases and passages that I’d skimmed in rapid succession last time. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published the year I turned ten. The first film came out just months after I turned fourteen and helped to inject magic into a generation whose innocence ended with 9/11. With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows published just before I turned twenty and this final film installment coming just a year after college graduation, I must face the reality that I am now an adult who will forever find it easy to be young at heart as long as there is someone around willing to discuss Harry Potter.

 

As I move onto re-reading The Hunger Games Trilogy in August, I hope they hold up as well the second time through as the Harry Potter series did.

 

 

 

Again and Once More Again: The Joys of Re-reading

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” – Oscar Wilde

As much as I always enjoyed a trip to the library, there was always something infinitely more satisfying about walking out of a bookstore with an armload of books. To go to the library meant having to return them when I reached the end and, in many cases, even though I had finished the book, I was by no means done with it. I have my own living library now, continuously growing and expanding (I’m getting ready to add a seventh bookcase to the family). It isn’t as though I hoard my books with no one allowed to touch them but me; they take vacations of their own but they (almost) always come back. And when they do, we have a chance to become reacquainted with one another and I find myself feeling akin to how I felt when I first took it/them home.

After a streak of reading only new books, it’s nice to relax with an old, familiar favorite, a book that’s become a part of you and has crossed the line into family. This summer, I’m planning a family reunion. It has been more than ten years since I first read a Harry Potter book and with the final installment in the film series due out in a matter of weeks, I’m finally going back and reading them all again. Having grown up with it and witnessing what it has done to popular culture as well as the book and film industries, it is only fitting to celebrate this last piece with a trip down memory lane. It will be a test to see just how well I actually remember them and this time around I think I will appreciate the path that was laid out from the start now that I’m not losing track of my bread crumbs in my excitement. I wonder if my favorite parts will still be my favorites now that hindsight is involved?

Since Harry Potter will only take up a fraction of the summer, I think I might pull a few others down from the shelf for a second (or third or fourth) go-round. It would be nice to take my time through The Hunger Games as well as read them without a gaping eleven month break between Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Maybe I’ll revisit Russia with Crime and Punishment or walk from Longbourn to Netherfield once more if the weather is clear enough. I haven’t made up my mind that far yet but I do plan to relax a little and switch up my regular book reviews with a sprinkling of re-reading.