Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Half Blood Prince & The Deathly Hallows

I haven’t done much reading lately. I started reading a book while I was in Los Angeles in May and I wasn’t enjoying it.

 

After getting home, by the time I finally got around to starting to read again, it was three weeks later. I just wanted to read something that wasn’t going to test me, something that I knew I would enjoy.

 

So, I settled down to read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Last summer I started re-reading the series, ready for my trip to see the stage-play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in October this year, and I have been periodically dipping into it since last June.

 

When I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire I wrote that it was the book in the series that really opened up the wider wizarding world. I also spoke about how annoying Harry was as he started to go through puberty.

 

In Phoenix, Harry is still kind of annoying, but his anger here doesn’t feel out of place. He went through a lot during Goblet and so it feels completely justified. His arrogance is still present, particularly in his refusal to fully embrace the Occlumency levels, but equally Dumbledore is frustrating, in his absence, in his reluctance to share things with Harry.

 

The beginning of the book, as you might imagine following the events at the end of the previous book, is pretty bleak, and Rowling seems to know it. There’s a line about a third of the way through where Hermione is looking out of the window and says ‘here’s something that should cheer you up. Hagrid’s back’.

 

And though not my favourite character, my heart did lift at that moment. And I remember my heart lifting the first time I read it as well. Perhaps because of the absence of Dumbledore and the in-fighting between Harry, Hermione and Ron anything familiar is a welcoming sight.

 

Books 1 to 5 of the Harry Potter series are probably some of the books I am most familiar with. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows less so, mostly because I was eighteen and twenty respectfully when they came out. There was simply less opportunity for me to re-read the books when I became an ‘adult’.

 

So, reaching the end of Phoenix, I had to go into Prince and Hallows straight away to find out not what happened, but to remind myself how it happened. I read all three across the space of three weeks and it felt so good to be reading books that I enjoyed again, looking forward to picking up my book at the end of the day and not wanting to put it down.

 

I even woke up in the middle of the night worrying about Harry and Hermione while I was reading Deathly Hallows.

 

The last three books work so well together, like one huge book rather than just three big ones. They flow into each other well and Harry matures nicely into a character that you actually like, a great achievement for a character that comes close to being the worst character in the series during book four and five.

 

The last book neatly sews up pretty much every loose thread that had been left dangling from the previous six, even ones you didn’t know were loose. Every minor character gets a moment to shine, a shining example being Hermione saving Lavender Brown from Fenrir Greyback.

 

It’s a small moment, but the previous year, their relationship had been left frosty after Lavender went out with Ron, and Rowling doesn’t forget, she tidies it up, even with a small as interaction like that.

 

And yes… I cried at the end. It’s impossible not to.

 

For those wondering:

 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix scores 4.1 out of 5 (same as Goblet of Fire)

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince scores 4.5 out of 5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows scores 4.6 out of 5

 

What lets Deathly Hallows down? It’s *not* quite as funny as the previous books, and if I’m completely honest the epilogue set nineteen years later… I could do without. Nearly ten years after first reading it, I feel slightly better about it as a precursor to The Cursed Child but it still feels like a bit of a mis-step to me.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

 

Regular readers of my blog will know two things:

 

  • How important JK Rowling is to me (if you’re not clear on this then click here to read more)
  • Since the summer of 2015, I’ve been re-reading and reviewing the Harry Potter series.

 

(FYI – You can read the first three reviews by clicking these links: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

 

My plan was to re-read them all by October 2016 – which is when my mum and I are going to see the eighth story in the series – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

 

Of course, JK Rowling has gone and ruined my plan by choosing to publish the script of the play on Sunday 31st July (Both Harry’s and Rowling’s birthday fact fans)

 

Aside from causing me a lot of extra stuff to do at work, this means I now have two months less in order to complete the series.

 

It shouldn’t be a problem, but the complication is that starting with Goblet of Fire the books triple in size.

 

In my head I’ve always referred to Goblet of Fire as “The One Where They Stopped Editing Her” – when the books are lined up on the shelf, the jump in size is very apparent, so I found myself approaching this reading what ‘extra’ is in there.

 

If Goblet of Fire had been the same size as the previous three books what would they have cut out?

 

My initial thought was obviously SPEW, the society Hermione forms in response to the unfair treatment of house elves, since this is the biggest subplot that the film cuts out. I also remember being incredibly frustrated by it at the time I first started reading it.

 

But I started thinking about the point of it. There’s a line from the fake Mad-Eye Moody which says (and I’m paraphrasing here) that the best way to get the measure of a man is to see how he treats his inferiors.

 

That’s an allegory for the central point of the Harry Potter books. Voldemort wants to rid the wizarding world of half-bloods and mudbloods. They are less than him, inferior.

 

It is telling that it is Hermione (the mudblood of our main group) that is the one to notice the injustice of the house elf situation.

 

In retrospect, the frustrating part of this plotline is that nothing actually changes. It’s not mentioned again in the subsequent books (to the best of my knowledge) and the situation doesn’t improve for the house elves – although it is often stated that the house elves themselves don’t want change.

 

I’m not sure how true that is. It feels like a loose thread to me, but maybe it’s one we’ll see developed in The Cursed Child nineteen years later.

 

So, is there anything else that could have been cut out?

 

The answer is probably, but I’m glad it wasn’t. Maybe some of the scenes in the pensieve didn’t need to be explored in quite so much detail, but the beauty of this book is the level of detail it goes into.

 

If Philosopher’s Stone was about introducing the wizarding world, and Chamber of Secrets was about expanding Voldemort’s story, then Goblet of Fire continues the expansion of the entire wizarding world that was started in the Prisoner of Azkaban.

 

The detail and the plot really help set up where the series is going and for that it needs to be this big, what’s a shame is that in all those pages, there’s not an awful lot of room for character development.

 

As we travel from the Quidditch World Cup through each of the Triwizard Tasks right to the final climax in the graveyard where Voldemort rises again, it does just feel like we’re moving from event to event.

 

All three of the main characters are equally annoying throughout, from Harry and Ron’s stupid male pride to Hermione’s unfailing belligerence, it’s a good job we know these characters from the previous books, because going into this one cold, I can’t imagine that anyone would like any of them.

 

There is a little character development – this is certainly Hermione at the peak of her annoyance, and thankfully Ron’s dented pride doesn’t rear its head again until Deathly Hallows. As for Harry, the events at the end of this book certainly do change him, and he goes from annoying to just plain angry in Order of the Phoenix.

 

The stand out moment in Goblet of Fire are the final few chapters, from when Harry and Cedric Diggory land in the graveyard. SPOILER alert – Cedric’s death up to Harry’s desperate attempts to return his body to his family are pretty darn tear-jerking, especially considering we know what is to come.

 

Despite the lack of character development and the lack of humour (I honestly don’t remember laughing out loud at any point in this book, even Fred and George are too busy tied up in their own subplot to provide any light relief) it’s still a Harry Potter novel, which means it’s going to score highly with me – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire scores 4.1 out of 5.

 

I think going forward, I’ll think of this one as “The One Where They All Begin Puberty”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

There’s something about time travel, that I struggle to resist.

A good time-travel story is like a farce – in fact, I’m specifically thinking of an episode of Frasier named The Ski Lodge, which sees the characters going skiing for the weekend.

Both Frasier and Niles are hoping to get their end away, and the girls they’re with as well as the handsome gay ski instructor are all hoping for the same. The sad thing is that none of them want to sleep with the one who wants to sleep with them.

The episode works for two reasons. The first, a setting designed to allow the story to take place without hinder it (a large ski lodge with three bedrooms and interconnecting doors) and tight plotting, which results not in a flat sitcom performance, but a well choreographed dance.

The best time travel plots have to be like that as well. They contain plots that revisit the same scenes over and over again, viewed from a slightly different perspective, with the added danger of the characters running into a future or past version of themselves.

The plotting has to be tight and the setting has to be established, or else you risk running up with a mess.

That is exactly what you get in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – which before re-reading it I would have said was probably my favourite instalment of the Harry Potter series.

Now, having re-read it, I can tell you, it IS my favourite. The whole novel, short though it may be in comparison to the subsequent books, spends its time building up to the climax, the moment that begins at the point where Hermione, complete with a melodramatic lip tremble (I imagine) informs the boys that Hagrid lost the appeal for his Hippogriff Buckbeak.

From there, Rowling barrels through plot twists and developments that she’s had simmering along nicely, some since the first and second books, with a wonderful time travel section that I just adore.

However, my favourite part of the book, and maybe my favourite part of the series comes early on. Shortly after escaping the Dursleys and being put up in the Leaky Cauldron, Harry spends his last two weeks of the summer holidays in Diagon Alley.

It seems to me, that when Harry was looking for his happy memory in order to conjure his Patronus, he should have looked to that sunny fortnight in London. It’s the first moment of the series where we truly get a sense of Harry being happy, he is carefree and without responsibility.

In retrospect, it’s also the last time before the end of the series where it feels Harry experiences happiness, a true care-free time. It could be argued that his trip to the Quidditch World Cup (pre the Death Eaters arrival) in Goblet of Fire is a happy time for Harry, but it struck me as I was reading this chapter, how tense he seems to be when with his friends.

He always seems to have a responsibility to his friends, to be the middle-man in the sniping between Ron and Hermione. To downplay parts of himself to make them both feel more comfortable – one of the biggest recurring themes in the books is Harry feeling uncomfortable at having money when Ron doesn’t.

During his ‘holiday’ in Diagon Alley, the biggest worry Harry has is that his hair won’t stay flat. This wonderful little bubble only bursts when Ron and Hermione descend on the Leaky Cauldron.

The Prisoner of Azkaban is a turning point for the series. It marks the end of Harry’s more innocent years, but also fires the starting pistol for the rest of the series. It’s clear from the end of this book that the series is only going to get darker and more epic.

It’s no wonder that the Harry Potter hype that was starting to sweep the world really took hold after the release of Azkaban, it’s probably JK Rowling’s finest piece.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Earlier this year, I re-read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and have now progressed onto it’s sequel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

 

I’ve previously stated that my copy of Philosopher’s Stone was the oldest thing I owned, but actually, it strikes me as I begin writing this review that it’s actually a tie with Chamber of Secrets – getting them both for my birthday, shortly after Chamber of Secret was published.

I remember being slightly disappointed at the time, because CoS wasn’t quite as good as PS (two paragraphs in and I’ve resorted to one of those people who use acronyms), so it seems strange reading it all these years later from a different perspective

Chamber of Secrets shows a slightly more comfortable Harry, and actually it feels like JK Rowling is slightly more comfortable with the writing, flowing a little more naturally, and being ever so slightly more grown-up.

It’s also interesting how much in here sets the tone for later books. The first of Voldemort’s Horcruxes that would play a pivotal part in the seventh book is introduced and destroyed here, but also is the first clue that Harry himself is a Horcrux.

When Harry talks to Dumbledore at the end of the book about being able to speak Parseltongue, the older wizard implies that it was a gift from Voldemort himself.

Unless I’m much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I’m sure…

 

If he didn’t know before, Dumbledore surely realises at this point that Harry is a Horcrux and that one day Harry would have to die in order for Voldemort to truly be banished. As a reader knowing this, it may put a different angle on how Dumbledore behaves in subsequent books.

I think the reason I liked it less at the time was because, rather than a new villain, Voldemort was back in a slightly different form. As an eleven year old, it felt like a cop-out for the heir of Slytherin to be the same guy that caused all the trouble in the first book.

Later, around the time of books four and five, Chamber of Secrets felt the weakest, because in comparison to the others, nothing actually happens. There is no advancement of the story. Philosopher’s Stone had a confrontation with the real thing, and Azkaban had the reveal of Scabbers and introduction of Sirius Black, while Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix had the return of Voldemort and the beginning of the war.

In comparison, Chamber of Secrets was a meaningless romp, but in hindsight it sets up a lot of things that come into play in the later books.

All these years later, I’ve changed my mind, far from being one of the weakest books in the series, it may be one of the best.

There’s one thing I haven’t changed my mind about though: Dobby.

Can’t stand him.

Talk about ending on a bombshell.

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

It’s not often that I’m wrong, it’s an even more infrequent occurrence that I admit that I’m wrong. But I was.

Earlier this year, I read A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale and I wouldn’t stop raving about it. I even, what now seems a touch prematurely, considering it was January, billed it as my book of 2015.

I was wrong.

And that’s not to do down A Place Called Winter, it’s still within my top five books of all time, and most other years, would easily win the book of the year title.

But, a few months ago, a book by Hanya Yanagihara landed on my desk at work. It’s a big brick of a book, over seven hundred pages, and I knew nothing about it. I hadn’t even read the blurb, but I was told by a colleague that I would enjoy it. Mostly because he knew I enjoyed The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

So what was I expecting? The great American novel. A bit of a saga. Not much else.

The blurb tells us it is the tale of four friends, JB, Malcolm, Willem and Jude. But really, it is the story of Willem and Jude. But REALLY, it is the story of Jude.

We meet them when they’ve first moved to New York and Willem and Jude are looking for a place to live together. It is made clear at the very beginning, they are not a couple, nor are they brothers. They are simply friends. Best friends.

And that is what the story is about; the importance of friendship, how it effects our lives and how it can be bigger, yet more uncategorised than romantic love, than sexual love.

A Little Life is the story of love between men. It explores all aspects of it, and it does so beautifully, and yet so tragically.

It’s very difficult to talk about this novel without giving anything away, or indeed without going on for pages about the tiny point that you want to talk about, so perhaps the best thing to do is to tell you about the structure of the book.

The titular little life in question is that of Jude St Francis, and it is through a non-linear construction that we learn about it. He is mysterious, and reluctant to talk about his past, to the point that his friends, his closest friends know nothing of him, except not to ask.

It is over seven hundred pages long, but each section, each chapter, feels like its own book. We learn in them the stories of all four characters to varying degrees, and though some of the chapters are as long as eighty pages, the prose and the characters are so elegantly drawn, it is impossible not to get swept away.

Cathy Rentzenbrink wrote in the Bookseller that she read the book in one night. This is unbelievable, believable, and unbelievable again all at once.

Initially, the size of the book is off-putting. It certainly doesn’t strike you as a quick read and the first thirty to forty pages are confusing. There are so many male twenty-something characters that it is difficult to tell them apart.

But then, something clicks and you’re not just able to tell the characters apart, but they have started to become part of you. The book starts to become part of you and although you kind of broadly know what’s going to happen, you have to read on. And that’s when you understand how it’s possible to have read it one night.

The desire to read on is strong, but what I can’t understand, is how anyone can be emotionally stable enough to read it in one sitting. There is a point about a third of the way through – and I don’t think this spoils anything – where the tragic background of Jude starts to become clear, and you realise that this is a book that’s going to break your heart.

That’s not to say it is filled with unrelenting misery. I read A Little Life at the same time that I downloaded Will Young’s latest album 85% Proof. It’s a typical Will Young album, cracking vocals, a little bit dance-y but quite melancholy, but I had it playing in the background as I read parts of the book, and every song on it seemed to fit the plot.

Three songs stand out:

Thank You – a song from Jude to Caleb

Blue – a song from Willem to Jude, that actually contains the line “We live a little life”

And Joy – a song that is melodically upbeat and happy, but is lyrically about hope. “Nothing really matters, we’ve got everything we need, take a big leap and we will feel joy.”

It’s a song about daring to hope that things are going to work out, and that is the pervading feeling that you get from this book. Life is miserable, bad things happen, but the characters in this book are not just living little lives, they’re living great ones, because of the relationships and friendships that they form with each other.

There’s a whole section of the book in the last third called “The Happy Years” and by the time you get there and you see the heading, your heart sinks, because you know that nothing is going to stay happy, by this point, you know it’s a book that’s not only going to break your heart, it’s going to shatter it and use the bits to create itself a home.

And there are moments during The Happy Years where you’re screaming at the characters, urging them to just… well, I shan’t say. But you are. They’re making themselves miserable and it’s unbearable.

Then, at the end of The Happy Years, at their happiest, something happens, in the last three to four paragraphs. I had to put the book down and walk away.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and there were maybe a hundred pages or so left. I had time to finish it before going for dinner at my mum’s, but by this point, I knew that I would not be in any state come the end of the book, where I would be able to be around people, let alone make small talk with my granddad and mum.

I came back in the evening, curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine and began to read.

I started with Will Young playing in the background, but it became clear after just one page that the music wasn’t suitable. Not because it didn’t match, but because I was being sucked into this world. Into Jude’s world.

It doesn’t spoil anything to say that first part of the last section is told from Jude’s point of view – as I’ve already said, the book is told in a non-linear structure – and I started to cry.

I’m not a big crier. I’m not emotional. But sometimes when watching a film, or a TV program, a small tear will escape. It happens more often with books, where one or two tears will trickle down my face. It last happened with A Place Called Winter, and previously to that it happened with the book that I won’t name (I’ve mentioned this book before, but it’s becoming less and less important to me that I don’t share it, perhaps one day, I will).

In the space of 98 pages, I cried four times. A trickle or two of a tear. Maybe on one occasion three tears, because I really screwed up my face and squeezed that third one out. This was surprising enough to me, to know that A Little Life had truly affected me, but then…

The last section of the book is a letter from Harold – Jude’s adoptive father, and it had made a tear escape already once. And then there is the payoff to a moment three or four hundred pages earlier and I immediately started to sob.

Big, unmanly, tears misting my eyes, properly crying.

I had to put the book down, two pages from the end, because I couldn’t see to read. I had to compose myself before I could bring myself to carry on any further.

There are many more things I could say about A Little Life, and I could probably talk about it and digest it and analyse it forever, and I probably will, but for the purpose of this blog post, I’ll just add these last few points:

  • It’s taken me a week to even contemplate writing this post, such did it effect me that I couldn’t face thinking about it.
  • I’ve many more books in my ‘To Read’ pile, but I’ve regressed to Harry Potter. I need to cleanse my pallet so to speak, before I move on to anything else, and I know that the JK Rowling series will not be diminished by what has been read before.
  • To my sister – who will likely be one of the few people to read this review. This is my Moulin Rouge.

To people who want more than plot from their books, the kind of person who might enjoy The Goldfinch, then I would ask you to please read this book, to stick with it past that first confusing section (which by the way, I think is intentional, because it seems ridiculous now, that one could confuse any of these characters).

I was wrong when I said A Place Called Winter was my book of the year. It’s still a very good book, one of the best. But, if there’s a book better than A Little Life, I don’t have the emotional strength to read it for at least six months, and so I am crowning A Little Life my book of 2015.

It’s probably the book of my life.
A Little Life is published on August 13th 2015

The Definition of Marriage

I don’t want to get married.

I don’t want a boyfriend.

If I’m really honest with you, I can live without sex.

As long my future holds a cup of tea (ok, glass of wine) and a decent program on the TV then I’ll be happy.

But I can get married. I’m really lucky living in the UK where a gay man can marry another gay man. I could even do something as ridiculous as marry a woman, if I wanted.

That was a right granted to me by this country’s government. Other people aren’t so lucky, and they’re not as far away as you might think.

Just across the river in the Republic of Ireland, the residents are gearing up for a historic event. The world’s first public vote to determine – in short – whether one group of people are equal to another group.

It might seem obvious or inevitable that same-sex marriage – that equality –

should be allowed in most countries that are claiming to be a civilised part of the modern world, but perhaps not surprisingly, there are some people who object to same-sex marriage.

What is surprising, though, is that some of them claim not to be homophobic.

I can’t see it. My own – perhaps limited – view of the world can see no reason to object to one man marrying another man or one woman marrying another woman apart from that gay sex is icky. Sex in general is a bit icky as far as I’m concerned, but that doesn’t mean I object to people getting married.

I can’t understand for one second why ANYONE would want to shackle themselves to another person for the rest of their life, but that doesn’t mean I would object to it.

So, if they’re not homophobic, why else would someone object? I googled “Marriage referendum, no arguments” – here’s what I found.

Won’t somebody think of the children?!

If I can’t understand why someone would want to get married, then I sure as hell can’t understand why they’d want kids, but, marriage – apparently – is the process by which one procreates. Therefore gay men and women don’t need marriage, as they can’t have children.

Well, that’s just silly. Even I know that sex is how you get kids. AND I know that many people get married and don’t have kids. Does that mean they’re any less married? No.

Those that do have children, does their marriage lapse once the children have moved out? No.

On the flip side, if a child doesn’t have two parents, because they’ve been adopted or orphaned… does that make them any less of a human being? No.

Marriage is not about children. So let’s stop talking about them.

That’s mean(ing)

The No side seem to be under the impression that allowing homosexual people to get married is akin to allowing footballers to suddenly pick the ball and run with it in their hands. It just wouldn’t be football any more.

My understanding is that it’s not about changing the game, it’s just about allowing more people to play.

Manchester United and Manchester City can play in the same City without it making Manchester City’s game any less significant (I’d be tempted to make a football joke here, but I’m foraying into a territory I know nothing about).

Adultery

This is my favourite one. Marriages can be dissolved at the moment citing adultery as a cause. Adultery is defined as extra marital sex between a man and a woman – while two members of the same sex is just unreasonable behaviour.

Equal marriage would require the definition of adultery to be updated.

I’m not sure what the objection is here.

Are they worried about having to re-write all the dictionaries?

Are they worried that same sex marriage would ruin the sanctity of straight divorce? Hmm.

Jesus said…

 

Yeah well, Harry Potter told me I could unlock doors with my magic wand. He was wrong and JK Rowling lied.

Jog on.

Defining Marriage

Marriage is a contract between a man and a woman. That’s the definition.

Ok, that’s a fair point.

What actually changes if we change the definition to ‘marriage is a contract between two people’?

For homosexual people:

  • Recognition of their love
  • The same legal rights as straight couples
  • Offspring of a gay couple growing up in a family that is the same as everyone else’s
  • Equality

For heterosexual people:

The way I see it, the people of Ireland have three choices come May 22nd:

  • Don’t vote. Stand by and do nothing while other people are discriminated against.
  • Vote yes. Allow a free society where love is love and children are taught that everyone is equal.
  • Vote no. Because you’re a cock.

Don’t be a cock. Vote yes on May 22nd.

The Casual Vacancy

JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy begins it’s BBC1 adaptation tonight, so a few of you may be wondering whether or not the book is any good. I first read and reviewed The Casual Vacancy back when it was published in 2012.

Below is my review from three years ago…

So my last blog post was about how Harry Potter and JK Rowling has appeared throughout my personal and professional life. The reason for that was so that I could write this blog about her newest book – The Casual Vacancy – purely on the merits of the book itself.

However, now, as I sit down to write this blog, I wonder if that it is possible – and if it is, should I?

With any established brand – and that is what she is – whether it’s a TV series, a musician or a maker of champagne, there is the expectation on the next product to be as good as the previous one, if not better. Executed badly, they risk devaluing a franchise (various film series spring to mind here), but if it’s pulled off, they can reap huge rewards.

Some might say it’s unfair to judge The Casual Vacancy in comparison to the Harry Potter series, but the truth is a lot of people will buy The Casual Vacancy whether they like the sound of the plot or not, because they are fans of Rowling. Her writing, her characterisation, her plotting and her pacing are hallmarks of her writing, and so must be assessed in terms of both their standalone appearance in this novel, and in comparison to her previous publications.

It would, however, be unfair to compare the impact. Potter was a cultural phenomenon, which The Casual Vacancy will never be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t as good as Potter – or indeed, better.

So, now that I’ve set out my stall, it’s time to actually find out if it was actually any good…

I liked it.

The plot is subtle. It concerns a village – Pagford – on the edge of a larger town, Yarvil – and The Fields – an estate between the two. The parish council of Pagford is split into two factions, those who wish The Fields to be governed by Yarvil – led by the pompous, big fish in a small pond, Howard – and those who wish for it to be governed by Pagford.

The second faction was, up until about page 5, led by Barry Fairbrother, but when he dies, he leaves a spare seat on the council, the Casual Vacancy referred to in the title.

The next 500 pages or so are about the three potential replacements, their families and friends and Krystal Weedon a resident of The Fields and her family.

It doesn’t exactly sound very exciting. It’s certainly no “Boy Wizard and friends defeat Dark Lord by destroying seven split pieces of his soul”.

But the plot isn’t really the point. It’s about the characters and their relationships with each other. It sort of attempts social commentary, but I don’t think it really succeeds – the concept of a parish council in a small village is too far removed from the realities of most modern lives.

What it does succeed in though, is the development of a fascinating group of characters. The characters of The Casual Vacancy – specifically Krystal Weedon, Andrew Price and Fats Wall – compare tremendously well to their Potter counterparts.

These characters seem real and of this world. Harry Potter was never supposed to be of this world, but looking back on him and Hermione and Ron now, they seem a bit two dimensional.

Casual Vacancy is told from a number of different viewpoints, something which helps build the scope of the novel, but which also helps to define the characters and their relationships with each other.

All of the characters are horrible. I don’t think I can look back on them and truly say I liked any of them – but I certainly felt sympathy for them, and I definitely got to know them in a way that, over seven books, I didn’t know Harry Potter (who was always a bit coy over defining his feelings).

Maybe that’s the point Rowling is trying to make – we’re all as horrible as each other, and even those people that we like, our friends, our family, our lovers, if we were inside their head and knew everything they were thinking, would we still like them as much? Probably not.

Like them or not, you get to know the characters so well, that you CARE about the results of the election. It feels tense as you build closer and closer to it until you get there, when suddenly it doesn’t matter any more. From the day of the election, the story spirals out of control of the hands of our characters. A chain of events begins that will likely change the dynamics of the village for a long time, and it is, a little bit heartbreaking.

Not bad for a plot-light book about a local election.

Negative bits:

The Weedon family’s dialogue where Rowling falls into the trap of trying to write an accent. It goes over the top a bit, and reminds me of her writing of Hagrid. Also as a resident (sort-of) of the West Country where Pagford is supposedly located, it reads more as Scouse than Farmer…

Rowling’s over-use of brackets to for explanation of back story (sometimes lasting over a page) is distracting.

Howard and Shirley Mollison while good characters, were also good characters when they appeared in the Harry Potter series. They are Petunia and Vernon Dursley, albeit a few years older. They are Mr and Mrs Muggleton of Muggleville.

That’s about it for negatives.

The book certainly isn’t for everyone. It’s not a page-turner, more of a slow-build, but if you have the time to invest in it, and you have a taste for books from the more literary end of the spectrum then I would certainly recommend giving it a go. Even if you didn’t like Harry Potter. Perhaps, especially if you didn’t like Harry Potter. It’s completely different.

I’m giving The Casual Vacancy a 7.5 out of 10. It is by no means perfect, and it’s not going to change anybody’s life, but it is enjoyable, and it is well written.

The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith

Last year JK Rowling was outed as the woman behind Robert Galbraith – the man behind the critically acclaimed debut crime novel ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’.

 

Sales skyrocketed and inevitably a review from me followed. What did I have to say about it?

 

I thought the main character Cormoran Strike wasn’t likable. His sidekick Robin WAS likeable but under used. I thought the mystery element was strong, but the structure was a little too obvious, and that while it felt disappointing through the first three quarters of the book, in hindsight it was cleverly written.

 

So, the sequel was released a few weeks ago.

 

How does The Silkworm stack up?

 

I’m a massive JK Rowling fan, so there’s always a possibility that I might be biased, but………

 

It was ok.

 

Strike was a much more sympathetic character and felt very real. Robin, on the other hand, came across as a little annoying, because of the constant misunderstanding between her and Strike about her future development.

 

The book ended with the pair of them in a much better place, with Robin helping out in the investigation, but it was annoying before they got there.

 

As for the mystery, it was… ok. It didn’t really engage with me, and I thought the ending and reveal was pretty flat, likely because I didn’t really care.

 

The thing is – if anyone should have been engaged in it, it should have been me. The victim was an author and the suspects were all within the publishing industry.

 

There’s enough decent material in here – mostly Strike – to give promise to book number three, and I think now the relationship between him and Robin has developed to a point where the next book will be much better.

 

I will read book three, but I don’t think I’ll be excited prior to the publication, I may not even read it straight away. There’s better stuff out there.

 

Bit disappointed, to be honest.

Three Queens and a Dame (And JK Rowling of course)

The idea of who you would invite round for your dream dinner party is not a new one, so today’s blog post is not going to revolutionise the bloggersphere, however like a university student spending a night in A&E there are rites of passage that we must all go through.

So, here’s mine.

 

The Food

Arguably the most important part of any dinner party. My only suggestion would be, keep it simple.

The chances are you’re going to have a fairly mixed crowd, so you’ve more chance of people being happy by picking something basic.

But basic doesn’t have to mean nasty or bland. It just means something you enjoy and know that you can make really, really well and easily.

For starters, Leek and Potato soup with bacon lard-ons (love that word), then my specialty – it has to be bangers and mash. Seriously, I could eat it all day.

For pudding, I’m not sure. I’m not great at puddings, so I think I might just steal my sister’s recipe for cheesecake.

 

The Entertainment

Really? There has to be entertainment?

This is what’s always bothered me about Come Dine With Me. If the food is right and the guests are right and the wine is flowing, there is no need for any planned activity.

The entertainment will come from the conversation. It may end up in an impromptu display of line dancing, or a game of strip poker. But you don’t need to structure fun.

 

The Guests

Well, here’s the biggie.

I think I’d probably have to have a few different dinner parties in order to entertain everyone I’d like to.

I’m gonna take four guests here. The first one would be Dame Julie Andrews. I’ve got a bit of a thing about her at the moment as she’s over here doing a bit of publicity for her ‘Evening with…’ tour.

She’s a fascinating woman who starred in what is probably the best film ever made. But ultimately, I don’t care what she has to say, as long as she’s saying it. Her speaking voice is beautiful.

Having seen Will Young on Question Time previously, he’s very educated, and eloquent man. He’s also a beautiful singer (perhaps he could be the entertainment?) as well as a beautiful man. If the party gets out of hand and we all get a bit raucous and drunk and Will wants to stay over for the night, well then, that’s fine too.

The next one is a bit of an obvious one if you’ve read my blog before – JK Rowling. I love her. I think she’s a brilliant writer and a real inspiration to me. I just want to ask her and talk to her about everything about the writing process.

Queen Elizabeth II.

I mean, how amazing would that be, right? She’s such a familiar face, but we know next to nothing about her.

I’d love the opportunity to interview her and hear candidly just what exactly makes her tick. What she likes and what she doesn’t.

 

So, that’s it. That’s my dinner party. A singer, a writer, an actress and a monarch. A fascinating (to me) mix, and now I’m a bit disappointed that it’s not actually going to happen.

 

I’m also surprised that I didn’t pick anyone from EastEnders. Is Pam St Clement free?

 

Prompt: Channel 4 invite you to do Come Dine With Me. Who’s invited and what’s your entertainment?

#BEDM14: I’m Up All Night To Get Lucky

Most of the time I have a pretty good memory, but right now, it’s failing me. So is Google

I wanted to tell you about a quote, and therefore wanted to tell you what the quote was, but I can’t remember it.

Instead, I’ll have to paraphrase.

It was some years ago, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (come on, it’s been ages since I dragged a Harry Potter reference onto the blog) had just been released or was about to be released.

There was a TV interview with JK Rowling and she was asked about how lucky she’d been with Harry Potter.

Her reply went along the lines of

It was luck that gave me the initial idea. Everything else was hard work.

We are often too quick to dismiss the success of others as luck, but also, people are sometimes too quick to dismiss their own success as luck.

It was nice to see someone standing up for their own hard work, and it always reminds me that I can’t sit here and wait for luck to happen. I have to go out there and make my own luck.

Another quote of similar sentiment is

The harder I work, the luckier I get

There is no such thing as good or bad luck, but there is such things as hard work and laziness.

Prompt: Discuss a Quote