Author: JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
Finished on: 5 August 2016
Where did I get this book: Borrowed from my mum. While I was convalescing she came over, took away my two children and left me Harry Potter – perfect.
I would like to apologise to everyone who lives within a mile or so radius of my house for the disturbance caused by excessive sobbing at around 3pm last Friday as I neared the end of this book. My convalescence consisted of reading Harry Potter And The Cursed Child lying on a blanket in the garden for five hours, followed by a nap. (More evidence, if it were needed, that bookworm-dom is the key to making rubbish things not rubbish).
But to be clear, there is no way I am going to ignore the instructions of the great lady herself to ‘keep the secrets’. This revelation of sobbing is not a spoiler – I am equally likely to cry at happy bits, sad bits, success or disaster where Harry Potter is concerned.
These stories have been part of our lives for such a long time now. And above all it is enjoyable to be back in that world again, with those characters. Because for me, the Harry Potter books and films are all about the people we meet. The magic is magic, but the characters are more magic. I could write a whole post about my love for Luna Lovegood, or Molly Weasley, or Hagrid, or Sirius Black. And I could probably write a book on my love for Hermione Granger. These characters are real to me. I care about them as much, and let’s be honest in many cases more, than the people I know ‘in real life’.
When Go Set A Watchman was published, and there was a lot of sneering commentary around on the strength of readers’ feelings about Atticus Finch, I reread To Kill A Mockingbird and in my review reflected on the importance of fictional characters, not just to me personally, but as role models and companions to so many people. I lost respect for several journalists at that time because of their failure to understand that fictional characters live, and make a big old difference to the world, through the people who read and love them.
For me it all began sixteen years ago, when my sister was working in a children’s bookshop and lent me three books in a new series she has been getting into. And then suddenly these stories of a young wizard going to school were everywhere. I was reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when I met my now husband in 2000. And weirdly, he is from the town of Dursley, after which Harry’s vile adoptive family is named (don’t let that put you off, he’s quite nice really.)
One of the secrets of the success of these books is Rowling’s supreme authorial authority, and understanding of the world she has created. She makes it completely real for us, because it is completely real for her. You get the sense that Rowling has planned the backstories and contexts to all her plots to the extent that she knows how many times a day each of her characters visits the loo. Reading a book like this is deeply comforting because you know you are in safe hands. There will be no slip-ups and you can relax. Rowling’s wizarding world is a brilliant place to spend time, and by 2003, when The Order Of The Phoenix came out, I was hooked. I was living in a field in France at the time, and my sister bought it for me for £16 on the day it came out and spent another £16 posting it to me (thanks Sal).
In 2005, for The Half-Blood Prince’s release, I was pregnant with my daughter. We stopped off at the Waterstones on Park Street in Bristol to buy it on our way to the Ashton Court Festival, where I sat on the camping chair my husband carried around for me at all times, and ignored everything to read it propped up on my massive belly.
When my daughter read it herself a couple of years ago, it was one of those moments that makes you stop, take stock, and yes maybe have a little cry. My baby reading a book I read when she was inside me. Magic indeed.
Reading the books with her, and watching the films, has redoubled my love for them. From Sirius blowing her mind by showing her that things are not always as they appear: “But, you think he’s bad. And really he’s not bad. He’s very very good,” to going to the cinema together to watch The Deathly Hallows Part 2, to her teacher saying at parents evening “I’ve set Elsie a challenge, that the next book she reads won’t be a Harry Potter,” these books have meant every bit as much to my girl as they have to me. More probably, as she has been fortunate enough to read them as a child, when the books you love become part of who you are in some fundamental way. I am quite jealous. But sharing an appreciation for these stories has been brilliant, and genuinely enriching to our relationship.
When I wanted to learn how to make a listicle for work, my daughter helped me, and there was really only one choice for the subject of our list. We stayed up late making a top ten of our favourite Harry Potter characters (it’s here if you fancy a look – we accidentally did it in reverse order, and people who read it can change the order so it’s a bit jumbled, but I hope you get a sense of how much fun we had, and the extreme geek-dom with which we love these people.) http://list.ly/list/zi8-who-are-the-ten-best-harry-potter-characters?feature=search
As a stand-alone book, without having read the seven novels, I can imagine Harry Potter and the Cursed Child would be bewildering. It does rely on knowledge of the previous stories. But let’s face it, that issue would only apply to about five people. The rest of us are just over the moon to pick up where we left off. It does also lack some of the all-consuming quality of the previous books, but that is due to its being a play rather than a novel. And I admire Rowling for doing something different with this story; I imagine seeing a good production of this play would be incredible.
So this review has ended up being more about my feelings about Harry Potter in general than about this book specifically. But in a way, that is the point. We have grown up with these characters, and we have brought our children up with them. It is a delicious treat to spend more time in their company, and in some cases even get to know them better.
And now I must check, did I ever pay my sister back that £32?