Saturday, July 16, 2005

Happy Potterday!

Received, Read and Reviewed -- by 7.15 p.m. today! Phew. I feel like I've been riding bareback on a centaur -- wheeehoooo! The review should appear in tomorrow (Sunday 17th July)'s Times of India Weekend.

Here's what I wrote:

We enter the seething cauldron of sixteen-year-old Harry Potter's spell-bound life with a crackle of green fire, in the office of a nameless British Prime Minister. Yes! Magic has begun to seep out of Hogwarts, the school for young wizards and into the world of unsuspecting Muggles. That's you and me, in case you haven't already been seduced by the first five books of the internationally best-selling series by British author J.K.Rowling.

The scene soon shifts to Hogwarts and remains there for most of the six-hundred pages of the book. Gone are the burlesque scenes of Harry's adoptive Muggle family the dismal Dursleys. No more do we tryst with giants in distant forests or learn the correct technique for subduing Hippogriffs. Even the various budding romances remain, thankfully, minor tendrils compared to the heavy breathing of the previous book. In this, the penultimate volume of the series, the shape that the final confrontation will take is clearly stated: Harry will need to find and destroy the separate fragments into which his nemesis, Lord You-Know-Who Voldemort, has splintered his soul. How Harry comes by this knowledge and what he needs to find out about himself before he can embark upon this difficult and dangerous task is what occupies the current book.

It is an altogether quieter story, despite the usual quota of soul-rotting curses, unforgiveable villainy, despicable betrayals, corpses, deaths … none of the books is anything less than a bullet-train of plot! This time around, the headmaster of the school, white-bearded Dumbledore works closely with Harry to uncover the secrets of the boy's destiny. He is one year older and less volatile than when we last saw him, less spontaneous, more distant. Slowly but surely, like a train drawing away from a platform, he is leaving the station of his youth behind. There are apparently going to be no stops now: when the next book ends, he will be a man.

There are several moments of hilarity, of course, such as Harry's first use of the Levicorpus spell that throws all the sleeping boys in the dorm around him soaring up into the air at daybreak; there is Hagrid and his rough humour; there are the snog-wars of teenage couples. But the overwhelming agenda of the book is grim rather than amusing. We are never very far from the brink of extreme doom and even when small victories are won, they are always against the backdrop of dastardly murders and hell-brewed schemes.

If we clear away all the distraction of spells and potions, characters and caricatures, though, we find one all-engrossing theme: identity. Who is or was the Half-Blood Prince? Was he Voldemort? Was he a she? Or was he some as-yet unknown, but unusually gifted wizard who left behind handy crib-notes for Harry to use in his borrowed copy of Advanced Potion-Making? Come to think of it, the search for identity is what animates all the Potter books. Each one is about discovering the true nature of the characters who appear in various guises, whose back stories fill the shop-windows of their lives. Is this, perhaps, a clue to the global popularity of the book? Because it is certainly true that in this alphabet soup of cultures that we live in world-wide, understanding who we are has become the overwhelming goal. Once we know that, we can decide what we eat and where we'll shop; who we'll marry and where we'll live; when to wear our head-scarves and whether or not to strap on a belt of explosives that will blow up a train-load of passengers.

Identity is the raw material of the human cultural machine. The Greek myths used the gods to pepper their stories with half-divine heroes while we use the word "magic" in the place of "divine", but the stories remain much the same: seek the source of power, ponder its meaning and struggle to use its burden wisely. No surprise, in today's desk-bound reality, that our hero is a geeky-looking boy with glasses, dark-hair and a spindly frame - and no! I'm not going to tell you who dies. I didn't read six-hundred pages in six hours just to give the plot away!


a.a said...

I liked that review, inspite of not particularly being a Harry Potter fan...(and I'm seriously impressed with the 600 pages in 6 hours).

"our hero is a geeky-looking boy with glasses, dark-hair and a spindly frame" ... true.. very true... that it isn't too bad is it ?

Take a look at this article (?) (and check the illustration they use for it).

Some drone in the graphics department is either wickedly funny, or plain incompetent. Check it out before they change the picture:).

Jithu said...

i had always been a fan of potter & rowling.. have to get a copy myself.. :-))

Minal said...

Hey Manjula,

Read ur review in the TOI. I even told my hubby she is the one I'm currently playing SUdoku with along with Pramod:-)

Nice review, need to get that book! Btw 600 in 6 hours!!!!!!
I've also done that when I picked up Potter for first time! The plots are gripping aren't they?

I don't logon on weekends as I'm generally out! I'm back in the game now;-)

jaygee said...

hey manjula.. your 600 pages in 6 hours inspired me to complete the book in one hour.. really nice review

Pramod said...

Wow, thats quite impressive - reading the whole book in 6 hours - joys of a job eh...:-) Good review!

I too got my book on Saturday (two years back I got my book 5 too on the day of release - its kind of fun to go to the shop on the first day - the excitement they generate for an English book is quite a rare event :-) )

I haven't yet started reading it though - hope to do so in the next few days (scared; might sit on it for 6 hours non-stop like you did ;-))

Just finished the latest work by Paulo Coelho -The Zahir - good story - but felt as if he was kind of forcing himself to write it; nothing compared to The Alchemist (it could also be the translator!)

Marginalien said...

Eek Jaygee -- I think you just created a read-speed record!!

a.a. -- great link! It was still up when I saw it -- seriously chuckleworthy. That's what I call creative. You're right, it's hard to tell whether or not the website even knew what they'd posted. For those of you who haven't linked, here's a hint of what you'll see: the cover of a book called HARRY POTHEAD.

jithu, join the club.

Glad you saw the review in the Times, Minal -- I don't get the paper so it's always nice to get independent evidence that it appeared! Yup -- I'm REALLY glad it wasn't a 600-page treatise on plant viruses that I had to read and review in one day!!!

Thanks for the Sudocritter moves ... yes, you've gotta catch up! I'll react and upload later tonight.

Pramod -- I find I like Paulo Coelho in small doses. We get his column on Sundays and the main impression I get is that he's a good guy.

roswitha said...

Wow, that was succinct and eloquent given your time and space constraints. But wasn't reading it ever so much fun? I had such a great time, even if all the romances were a bit bugging.

Pramod said...

Indeed, thats exactly the conclusion I came to - Paulo Coelho is good in small doses. In fact all his previous books - The Alchemist, The Pilgrimage, and Veronica Decides to Die - the three I have read - were all much smaller. He has a great ability to tell simple stories in a powerful way.

But in Zahir - his story telling skills were evident - but I think he was not flowing freely when it came to bringing in the punch that he had managed in his previous works.

Now I need to read your work - hope I can pick couple of them up when I visit India in two weeks - any suggestions where I should start :-)?

Anonymous said...

Arf! Woof! Honk! Never read a Pottah! Anyday now...

Aero said...

Zots moi!

Marginalien said...

Roswitha -- yes, it was a fun read -- I found the romances MUCH less bugging than in the fifth book!! Cool grapic, btw.

Pramod -- thanx -- and if you want my advice, you won't attempt to look for my books in stores in India, but will just order them online from Amazon (linx available in the right-hand column at this blog) -- and from Penguin India. I have NO idea whether or not any of the books are available in stores coz I never go looking for them -- it freaks me out to even be suspected of looking for 'em -- coz I'm told that many authors wander into bookshops pretending not to be themselves and ask for their own titles ... eeeek.

Anonymous and Aero ... errrm ... are you both the person formally known to me as Amrobillia??? Just curious ...

Anonymous said...

Yes, I R...