I finally started the new Harry Potter book last weekend. Being out of the country for the actual release, you may be forgiven for thinking that I missed all the hype, but I was still keeping track of how well it was doing and how people had queued at all hours to buy it and how the eager had finished it by daylight on the day of release, blog after blog online tracked their progress and spouted their opinions. I also had to try and avoid any serious plot spoilers too. As an aside, I’d like to add that this is the first time I’ve read a Harry Potter novel in public, as I was travelling back to Holland, and I did feel a little weird imagining what people thought of a fully-grown man reading Harry Potter (with the kid’s cover no less). The only comment I got was from a stewardess and she seemed more interested in how I was finding the book rather than pointing out I was twice the age of its intended audience.
There seems to have been a fair bit of criticism fired at the book thus far, but I’m a little over a third in and enjoying it. I have to say that Order of the Phoenix went off the boil for me. Harry was being kept in the dark, which meant we, the readers, were kept in the dark, and I hate that. Add to this that Harry spent most of the book whining and moaning, flying off the handle, shouting and generally getting on my wick and it didn’t make an enjoyable reading experience, for me at least. I don’t know about anyone else, but I also didn’t feel any compassion for Sirius so I wasn’t bothered when it died (and it wasn’t like it was a nice dramatic death either, he disappears behind a curtain never to be seen again, where’s the heart-wrenching, stomach churning, tear inducing aspect to that?), I liked the character, but he was always distant and I didn’t have any empathy with him.
Anyway, Half-Blood Prince, aside from having a wonderful title, is working out quite well (I’m a little over a third through at this point). Harry is being given much more responsibility, which has made him grow up, as has the increasing seriousness of the world around him. Attacks are happening regularly and no one seems capable of stopping them, which is why everyone is looking to Harry and he’s starting to feel that weight of responsibility, starting to take it on and try and live up to it. We’ve all become surrogate friends or parents who have watched this boy grow up and now he’s beginning to show glimpses of the potential we have long known he had, it makes us proud. The only thing I might say is that the sudden upsurge of sexual interest between the characters could have been more subtly dealt with. I’m half expecting the girls to be swooning at a mere glance from Harry soon and while Rowling has pegged the boy’s obliviousness well, she has neglected the fact that, at 16, they would very certainly be paying a lot more attention to the girls. I haven’t been as bothered about the ‘slow start’ that many reviewers have mentioned, let’s not forget that this is a novel and you have the time to explore these sorts of things. Okay, yes, if I’m being critical, we didn’t really need to know about Fleur and Bill (how much older is Bill by the way?), nor did we really need to hear all about Fred and George or, really, about Voldemort’s parents (unless these things prove useful later), but I enjoyed reading them nonetheless, and it helped to lighten the tone. Order of the Phoenix was a very dark, very unsettling and pretty miserable narrative, not much light or joy there, but with Half-Blood Prince, Rowling has lightened it by letting us see that the world isn’t simply gripped in terror, everyone waiting for the next death, worried it might be them, it could have been overwhelmingly dark and dank. She’s on an upwards climb to the finish now (not that there won’t be drops into darkness), we have been through the lowest point, the point where everything looked doomed, now hope has been restored and the joy of the mundane gives us some time and breathing space before the inevitably turbulent times ahead.
At least, that’s the impression so far, I’ve still got a fair way to go though and I’ve just stumbled onto another major plot point in a review (about Harry’s girlfriend, I already knew about who dies), but most of the fun is in how it’s handled as far as I’m concerned.