#Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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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’.

 


 

Synopsis

The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.
Synopsis courtesy: GoodReads
   

 

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
This might be a little bit of a spoiler, but since you’ll figure it out within the first 20 pages or so, I don't feel as guilty.Albus Severus Potter and his father Harry, and Draco Malfoy and his son
Albus Severus Potter and his father Harry, and Draco Malfoy and his son Scorpious seem to have a bit of a ‘teenager-parent’ thing going on. Maybe, it’s because I’m a parent now and have gone through the slightly ‘rebellious teenager’ phase with my parents myself, I could relate to a lot of the things that Albus does. Additionally, it is exactly how you’d expect the son or progeny of a famous father/parent would feel. There is this unspoken expectation to be as good or even better than your parent  - and that shines through clearly.
Continuity The book kicks off exactly where the epilogue to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 ended. So, it helps in maintaining the continuity and helps transition smoothly to a new book. It’s a different thing that the ‘book’ then seems to soar off way too quickly, after that. More on that later.
The Albus-Scorpious Friendship
Albus Severus Potter and Scorpious Malfoy develops a friendship that reminds us of the camaraderie that Ron-Hermoine-Harry shared during their initial days.The ‘I’ll stick by you no matter what’ friendship is definitely a highlight of the book.
The FanFic angle If you’re like me, no doubt you’ve read a lot of Harry Potter fan fiction out there in the giant black hole that is the Internet. Perhaps, you’ve even written some of them. After reading the book, I’m impressed that while this does read like a fanfic at times, the book (undoubtedly Rowling had something to do with it) cruises along steadily most times and is not ‘too over the top’ like most fan fiction pieces tend to be. In some ways, it's a tribute of sort to some amazing HP fan-fiction that I've read.  
 

What I didn’t enjoy so much

  The 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.  

 

My verdict

 

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'.

 

This is how I  presently feel, after reading it.

 

[tweetthis display_mode="box"]I want to love, it but I can’t. I want to hate it, but I can’t. #HarryPotterAndTheCursedChild [/tweetthis]

 


BARATHON
Today's Day One of the  Bar-A-Thon and the prompt is  : 'Strange than Fiction'