There are Potterheads. And then there are normal bibliophiles.
I’ll be honest; I know plenty of people who love to read but don’t fancy the Harry Potter books. At the same time, I know plenty of Potterheads, who aren’t basically big fans of reading, but would rather watch the movie instead.
Though I grew up largely reading books by Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, much like many others in my age-group, JK Rowling's Harry Potter is what 'sealed the deal' with the fantasy genre for most of us. It was fiction and fantasy alright, but in a lot of ways, it was a wee bit stranger than fiction because it was relatable. Yes, it had magic - lots of it, but it also gave us a freedom to dream. The freedom to imagine that maybe, just maybe, there was Ron, Harry, Hermoine, Neville, Snape, Dumbledore, Draco, Sirius, even Voldemort, hidden inside us. The books not only transported (or maybe helped us apparate ?) to those points in every story, we were practically stuck in a ‘time-turner’ sort of mode - we were there with them during every step of the way, perhaps hidden from their view, but it was very much like watching a real story unfold in front of us.
I’m well into my thirties, but I still wear my Potterhead badge as proudly as I did during my late teens, when I first discovered it. Yes, I also get asked by a lot of other bibliophiles to ‘grow out of it’ but somehow I never can. Perhaps, because I don’t want to.
So, quite obviously, when the book (I use the term loosely here - you’ll know why in a bit) #HarryPotterAndTheCursedChild hit the bookstores this weekend, it was a scene reminiscent of 2007 for me; when I’d been fortunate (or maybe, it was determined) enough to experience a Harry Potter book launch. If I’m honest, I didn’t want to go the bookstore to get the book. Ever since the book was announced, I’ve been in two minds. Most of us already knew that it wasn’t really a JK Rowling book. Yes, it was her story and she had inputs in it, but at the end of the day it was a two-part play. Despite being a proud Potterhead, I wanted the story to end where it had originally. I wasn’t sure I could go through all of it again. So, I decided to wait it out.
Of course, my wife had other plans. Imagine my surprise when she handed me over the new book - resplendent with its almost yellowish-golden color, crisp black font and of course, with the new book smell. Guess, she knows me all too well. It took me a little under 3.5 hours to finish the book. 2 hours yesterday night, and about 90 minutes today morning before sitting down to write this post. I don’t usually write book or movie reviews on the blog. But I do make exceptions time and again. And this is one of those times.
So, if you’re still with me, here’s a spoiler-free (largely) review of the new book titled - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’.
The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.
Warning : There may be very mild spoilers. I can’t do the review without those.
What I liked
Familiar Characters As with most other Potterheads, I have always firmly believed that my Hogwarts Admission letter was destroyed while Voldemort was out causing havoc. So it’s great to see that almost all the key characters from the past books make an appearance. From Harry to Voldemort, Dumbledore to Snape - all of them do appear in some form of the other and helps with the movement of the story in many ways. The father-son emotional angle
What I didn’t enjoy so muchThe narrative style Now, before you all gang up on me - Yes, I was very aware of the fact that this ‘book’ is in fact, more of a play-script rather than a book. But even so, writers and wannabe authors can learn one big lesson from this book - that the narrative style of a book is as important as the plot. Due the way it’s been executed, many times I felt like I was back in high school reading one of Shakespeare’s plays. And if I’m honest, I did not enjoy it that much. At times, I felt like I was a producer or director, listening to the writer narrate a script to me. And that wasn’t particularly enjoyable either. The story It’s a mixed bag and in my head, it was pretty predictable at times. Even the ‘grand villain’ reveal was nowhere as stylish as the previous books. Nor did it have that much of depth or even evoke an ‘oooh…I did not see that coming’ emotion in me. It was a wee bit too dramatic for me - perhaps, I should give them that credit because it is a play at the end of the day and not a novel. At times, it even feels like a ‘remix and rehash’ of the previous Harry Potter stories. A bit of a 'been-there-done-that' feel. Lack of ‘character’ depth One of the things that sets apart a good book from an average book is the way a key character develops - what we call a ‘character arc’. And that, in most books and stories, takes time. For instance, in the original series, we can clearly see how Harry, Hermione, Ron and the rest develop over the course of the story and the book. In the ‘Cursed child’ perhaps due to the fact that it’s a play, at times, you find yourself unable to relate to the things that Scorpious and Albus do. In short, there is a lack of time spent with each character and this can interfere with the way you ‘absorb’ the story. And because of the scenes frequently being short in duration, it can get a bit complicated to follow at times.
Before I go on with my final take on the book, let me say this - I’m reviewing this as a book or a novel, and not as a play. As a play, perhaps, it gets full marks.
Overall, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child succeeds in one thing - it evokes so much nostalgia that you will want to re-read the entire series once again. But at the same time, you can’t help but feel that it leaves you a bit incomplete. It’s almost fanfic in nature but has points where the ‘Rowling style’ is clearly visible. It’s almost too predictable in the sense that none of the previous books were. It is definitely not a stand-alone book, and will require you to be familiar with the previous Harry Potter books in order to understand the story.
Part of me, wanted this to be an adventure of sorts where Albus, Rose (Ron and Hermoine’s daughter), Scorpious and the others experienced Hogwarts for the first time, post the 'Big Battle' - with that sense of wonderment, the trepidation, and fun. Instead, at times, the Cursed Child becomes a bit of a slog fest - with time-travel elements being the ‘hero’ rather than the characters themselves.
If you’re an avid Potterhead, you’ll probably enjoy the book for all the nostalgic moments it evokes and the fact that it is an 'authentic Harry Potter story'. But be prepared for scenes that shift rapidly from one to another and a condensed character arcs for some of the key characters. It’s more ‘Sins of the Father’ than ‘Adventures of the Cursed Child'.
[tweetthis display_mode="box"]I want to love, it but I can’t. I want to hate it, but I can’t. #HarryPotterAndTheCursedChild [/tweetthis]
Today's Day One of the Bar-A-Thon and the prompt is : 'Strange than Fiction'