by J.K. Rowling
It took awhile to get through this book — not because it wasn’t good or because it was over 800 pages — but because L read the whole thing to me, out loud. We both wanted to read it at the same time (we bought it the day it came out) and didn’t want to purchase two copies. It worked so well, we are planning on reading books six and seven the same way.
So yes, I liked this book. Not quite as well as the fourth book, which is my favorite of the series so far, but I did think it was good. If you aren’t already a Harry Potter fan, I probably can’t much about the fifth book to persuade you. If you are a fan and you have read the book already, or you don’t care about spoilers, please continue.
To get it out of the way, I’ll talk first about what bugged me. What bugged me most was Harry — J.K. Rowling really captured what it is to be fifteen years old, that is, Harry really is an ass for most of this book. Annoying, but it rang true. There were other things I noticed: Rowling put more references to the other books in this one, and I was sometimes annoyed by the “remember in book two when…” tone. And there are elements that seem too formulaic — the routine of summer at Privet Drive, the train to school, break, and you know the book will end at end of term. Then I remember that this series was (at least originally) geared toward readers less than half my age, and let it go.
I think this book started off with a bang, which I enjoyed because some of the others seemed to ramp up slowly, with Harry stuck at the Dursley’s for the summer. Yes, it was over 800 pages, but unlike other door-stop-sized writers (Steven King comes to mind) I think this is more about big story than it is needing an editor.
I loved that Mrs. Figg turned out to be a squib, and that Harry’s Aunt was sent a howler. Ron being a prefect was another good choice. Lupin being around again also made me happy. Two iffy characters that turned out to rock in this book were Ginny Weasley and Neville Longbottom. A new and interesting face turned up — Luna Lovegood. I like toads, so I was sorry to see Umbrage continually compared to one, but I did enjoy hating her. I’m beginning, dare I say it, to like Snape. Rowling has a knack for interjecting humor when it is needed — how wrong is the baby-headed death eater, and how funny? I love that Lucius Malfoy winds up in prison, and I hope Percy comes crawling home on bloody knees in the next book, begging forgiveness from his family. And it is good that at least Dumbledore can recognize that wizard have treated everyone else like shit, and now they are going to be paying for it. (I think the mistreatment of house elves and giants is based on human fear of being less than; wizards are helpless without their wands, but other creatures have magical powers without them.)
I think the major lesson Harry learns in this book is that the wizard world is not a black and white world; it isn’t as simple as all good or all evil. People are more complicated than that. So it is confusing for Harry to see his revered father and godfather torturing the shit out of Snape when they were all in school; Harry and Hermione are afraid and disappointed that Hagrid has kidnapped a giant; and Dumbledore finally becomes something other than an all-powerful wizard, he becomes human.
There is more heartbreak in this book, too. Not just because Sirius Black dies, either. (Though that was hard, and the fact that Harry didn’t seek out Snape first, or, as we learn afterwards, use what turned out to be a mirror that Sirius gave him to contact him with before heading off to the Ministry made me wince.) Adolescence is a nightmare — the cruelty, the not being able to reign in emotions, the lack of control, the unfairness — and Rowling knows it.
What I like best about these books is the way people can’t help but talk about them. People speculate on what will happen in the next chapter, then next book, and why… There is rehashing why something should or shouldn’t have happened, the bolstering of opinions with textual citations. This series is that absorbing, because it is a complete world Rowling has created. I think people love the Harry Potter books for the reasonss they love the orginal Star Wars movies — because they give us a picture of a world we want to believe in, with identifiable good and evil, and there are lots of cool things (invisibility cloaks, the light saber noises) there that aren’t anywhere else. In the end, you want it to be true at the same time you know it never could work that way. At least that is how I feel.
Damn, it is going to be a long wait for the next book.