Monday, July 18, 2005

just another book review, ho-hum...

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! spoiler warning !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Actually, to tell you the truth, I don't think there are any specific plot giveaways here. But if you want to remain pure until after you finish reading, better skip this review until later.


It’s here.

Or rather, it’s in Charlotte.

I picked up my copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Saturday morning. As I stood in the very short line to buy it, it occurred to me that my feelings were ambiguous, complex (very much like the book turned out to be). The anticipation was there, tempered by the knowledge that I had to drive a couple of hours before I could really crack into it. And swirled in there somewhere was a fine ribbon of fear. What the hell am I afraid of? I asked myself as I waited. I've been waiting two years for this day.

If you start it, you’ll eventually finish it, won’t you? I answered. Then you’ll have to deal with the let-down.

Oh, and it might suck.

The fear of disappointment loomed in various shapes and sizes. I was afraid to open the book, so I started small, with the book jacket. It seemed promising, so I closed the book and headed out.

Two hours later, once I had made myself completely comfortable on Carrington’s porch, complete with snacks and beer (it was an awfully hot day, folks), I opened the book – slowly – and began to read.

The first three pages were enough to assure me that JK was, once again, on her game. The beginning chapter is, not surprisingly, very adult in its tone – wordly, political, and complex. She shows parallels and perspectives that are nothing if not astute and even sympathetic to characters that I had previously held in contempt – and this is a theme that survives to the last chapter.

The second chapter whirls us to a neglected countryside and another scene that doesn’t allow the reader to sit lightly on his or her laurels of judgement. How Jo manages to create sympathy for dark wizards and witches is beyond me, but somehow she does, and it’s my guess that this will be critical in book 7. The plotline introduced here is critical to the climactic scene at the end of the book - JK is usually meticulous with her overall craftsmanship (if not always her prose), so this is to be expected. (Yeah, I like bookends and foreshadowing and all that stuff. No, post-modern plots don't usually do much for me.)

Finally we’re back with Harry, with some unexpected transitions and an absolutely lovely come-uppance for which I had waited years without even knowing it. Luckily Carrington was not around when I shouted, “Oh, no, he DIDN’T just say that!”

It’s difficult to describe the middle chapters of the book at present – I don’t remember them very well. Miller High Life is some easy-drinking stuff, especially on a hot day – did I mention it was hot? I remember thinking that the tone of the book was subdued in a way, and the pacing was a little slow, or maybe it was just my brain plum tuckered out by all the words.

Carrington and I went out to get Vietnamese take-out (a new experience for me and completely yummy), then re-immersed ourselves in our respective reading. (For the record, she was reading Life of Pi.) At this point my head was pounding and I was dealing with an early hangover, so I grabbed some Tylenol with decongestant and went to bed.

I probably read a few pages, but Carrington’s guest bed had soft rayon sheets and a down comforter, so by ten o’clock Saturday night I was asleep.

I woke up at four Sunday morning, something non-Potterish nagging at me. I was surprised to find I felt much better, then remembered the decongestant and painkiller I took before going to bed. Tripping slightly from the pseudoephedrine, I made my way out of bed and went outside to close the moonroof on the car, which I’d forgotten to do that afternoon.

I came back and finished the Diet Coke I had left before bed, then crawled back in bed with Jo. I must have finished another hundred pages or so before falling asleep again.

Woke up for good at 9:30, jumped back in. Pacing still a little slow, a lot of repeated attempts to get somewhere that fail, until another plotline takes a step or two forward, then things really start to roll. Couldn’t put it down at that point. Finished up at 11:30, sniffling and snotty (not just because of my cold, either).

I look forward to reading it again – this time with the attitude I took towards the first fifty pages. Even after the first reading, though, it’s clear that Half-Blood Prince is a product of this age – where bombs explode and innocents die almost daily, where reading the papers is a continual reminder of how close death can be, where adults can’t always protect kids or each other, where our favorite people sometimes screw up really badly, and where it’s never a good idea to let things go unquestioned, however obvious they may seem.

As disturbing as the last few chapters are, however (and make no mistake – they are utterly ruthless and heartbreaking at times), the book left me with an undeniable sense of hope. Dumbledore’s lessons to Harry in this book are personal, real, and absolutely tied in to today’s world. When Duckie gets old enough to process this one, I will very much enjoy the discussions it will engender, and I thank J.K. for her insight and heart. I very much feel for parents of kids who read this book over the coming weeks – they will have their work cut out for them helping their children mull over and work through the issues and themes presented here.

In Harry’s world, as in ours, evil is alive and working to put out the twin lights of hope and love. In both worlds, people mistreat and hurt each other. In both worlds, characters are defined by the choices they make as a result of, or in spite of, the damage done. And in both worlds, love and loyalty are forces that makes the difference between heaven or hell, here on earth.

Sheesh. Now I want to read it again already. But I left Carrington my copy, so I’ll have to wait until September, when I see her again.


“What’s that, Dumbledore? Humor?”

“No. Manners.”

~HP & the HBP


Stewart said...

Carrington, cold beer, and a great book. What a great escape!

Everyone should have a friend they can spend a weekend reading companionably with.

(I must confess, I'd most likely find it very difficult to concentrate on a book if C.C. was in my field of vision.)

Chad said...

Well your review was much better than mine I have to say. You also have good taste in beer, although I usually go for MGD my high school and early Navy years were all about Miller High Life. Now I just drink Sharps.

I think you hit most of the issues I had with the book, and I agree I did almost feel sympathetic towards the dark wizards at the beginning. Just as I almost feel sympathetic towards the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
I say almost because life is about choices and living with the ones you make. It took me a little longer than most to figure that out but its a simple truth.

Another issue I had with the book was Harry's love interest, I don't want to reveal anything but it was just too convienent. However it is another of those items that seem rather unimportant when first revealed in the earlier books but now is a major plot point.

One other thing that I noticed is Harry's absolute sense of moral rightness. I have always admired that in people because I am sort of morally ambigous myself. I have very few lines in the sand. Harry howver knows exactly where he stands and seldom wavers. Maybe that isnt a desirable trait but it has always impressed me. Anyway good review thanks for commenting on my crappy little one and enjoy the book when you read it again. I am planning to read it again on vacation so I can dissect it a bit more and avoid reading about semi conductors.

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