Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

So obviously I’m a massive Potter-head. (And then I’m talking about the books. I don’t care much for the films. But the books, oh man…) I mean, me and Harry, we grew up together! I remember the books being totally new, no one at school had heard about Harry. I was about 10 years old when I got introduced into the World of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And from that year onwards, every summer, me and my family had a fight about who got to read the new book first. Mom, dad, brother, me. As I grew older, Harry and his friends grew older and his adventures went from exploring his newly found magic to and playing quidditch to defeating Voldemort once and for all.

I’ve read all the books at least 15 times. I’m not exaggerating. I really have. I even got a Harry Potter-themed birthday party after reading the first book. My mom was Professor McGonnagal and my dad professor Snape, and my brother Pieves. My friends all got an invitation for Hogwarts and we spend the whole evening doing magic tricks and brewing potions out of all sorts of brightly coloured soft drinks. Best. Birthday. Party. Ever.

So naturally, this new “book” has been on my mind. I wasn’t sure whether or not to read it. I mean, it’s not really a book. Seeing the play would’ve been better maybe, but who’s got money for that shizzle, right? I’d heard some mixed things from friends about reading the script. From “fun read” to “it’s just not what you want it to be”. So when I finally did give in and started the first page of the script, I tried to read with no expectations. And after finishing the book, all I can say is I have mixed feelings.

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First of all, let’s not forget, it is just a theatre script, not a book. And that means that what I liked most about the books, the magical world it creates and makes you become a part of, it just wasn’t gonna happen. The set directions gave only very basic info as to the location (which still, in theatre terms, seemed pretty complicated to make happen on stage), and your memories as a Potter-head would fill in the gaps. (That way it was quite smartly written, revisiting a lot of old locations and stories.) But because it lacked all of the detail that created this wonderful new world, and our familiar characters had changed so much and new characters were introduced, there just wasn’t enough backstory. You know, the fun-in-the-Hogwarts-hallways scenes, the quidditch games, potions class, Christmas dinners,… Far from crucial to the story, but unmissable in the Potter-world.

At the same time, the story was a fun read. Already quite early on, you were shot into the level of suspense we are used to when reaching the final part of each book. What starts out as a little adventure goes more and more wrong, plot twist here and there, more suspense, turn-the-page-how-is-this-going-to-end. Perfectly readable in just one cozy couch session.

On the one hand, it scratched my Potter itch by reconciling me with my old friends. On the other, it left me wanting more. More Hogwarts. More adventure. More silly Weasleys and smart Grangers and loyal Potters. I think more than anything, this script has shown that us fans aren’t tired of Potter just yet. And we are willing to give anything a shot if it means we get to revisit the good ol’ days of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Book Review – Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All, by Jonas Jonasson

Over Easter, me and the boyfriend went to visit his family and friends in England. Lovely little holiday that was. Lots of yummy food, wonderful company, a lot of playtime with the pets, and time to read my book! I started reading at the airport, and finished the book yesterday evening when we got home. It’s been a while since I’ve breezed through a book like that, and I loved it!

I’m a big Jonas Jonasson fan, I’ve read all his books so far. The first one was the international best-seller The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, which I stumbled upon in a camp site in Australia. I used to do a lot of bookswapping while backpacking, and I’ve read all sorts of stuff I usually wouldn’t look at in any bookshop or library, but when bookswapping, you can simply not be picky. And once in a while, you stumble upon a treasure, like the 100-year-old man. Hi-La-Ri-Ous. Absolutely the funniest book I’ve ever read. The main character goes on a journey of some sorts, meets new friends and enemies, and gets into a lot of trouble that he somehow manages to get out of every single time by some kind of deus ex machina.

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His other books, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, and the one about Hitman Anders that I’ve just finished, have a similar kind of story line without being a repetition of each other. Some of the characters have a fair bit of things in common, like the fact that most of them have not had the best childhood or ancestry. Or the thin line between right and wrong his characters generally are on the wrong side off, while at the same time still getting the reader’s sympathy, simply because they do not seem to know any better. Also, all his books have the same hilarious level of highly ironic and over the top. And still, Jonasson keeps coming up with inventive ways to make his characters go through some pretty crazy stuff!

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Let me quickly run you through the story of Hitman Anders, no spoilers. Jonasson’s newest book tells you the story of an unfortunate young man who happens to find himself stuck in life, being the receptionist in a shabby little hotel with guests like the rather dangerous sounding Hitman Anders. Life throws a lot of random things his way, and before you know it he is running a lucrative business with a former priest and the aforementioned hitman. Of course, it doesn’t take long before it all goes tits-up, as it is quite clear that not everyone is on their side. But nevertheless, the receptionist, priest, and hitman change plans as easily as their socks, and in such a way that you could never imagine how their story will end.

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For me, the best part about Jonasson’s novels, including this one, is the absolute randomness. Really anything could happen to anyone, and it does. Also, Jonasson has a really fun way to introduce new characters, no matter how vital or minor they are to the story. Every new character gets introduced with a short summary of their (generally quite awful) life before, and how this lead them to end up in the story.

Also wonderful is the language Jonasson uses. The complexity of his sentences stands in sheer contrast with the simplicity of his characters (who are never really smart, on either emotional or intellectual level, or even both), which adds a hilarious layer of irony to the story that works so well.

His books are an absolute joy to read, very entertaining. And even though he has a very clear style and ideas that return in all his novels, the stories still surprise and entertain you. And they are definitely a good laugh!

Book Review – “Tracks” by Robyn Davidson

You might have heard from this book through the movie that came out in 2014. Just as this book, definitely a must-watch! Even though the image you get from the main character is very different than in the book, the story will wow you and the images amaze you. I saw the movie in Alice Springs itself, where the story starts. It was a recommendation from my parents who had read the book, and the boyfriend (who was then not the boyfriend yet) who had seen it before and decided he’d come with me to watch it again (on what he keeps insisting was our first date). Ever since, I’ve been wanting to read the book. And now I have. And it was everything I hoped for and more.

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Let me first tell you something about the story without giving away too much. It’s actually a travel report rather than a novel. The main character and writer, Robyn Davidson, decided in to cross the Australian desert with a few camels in the late 70s. Something that returns a lot in the book, is the Why of this decision. It comes down to her wanting to show that you really can do everything you want to as long as you set your mind to it, which she expands on also in the interesting postscript to the 2012 edition, full of other inspirational quotes like:

“One can choose adventure in the most ordinary of circumstances. Adventure of the mind, or to use an old-fashioned word, the spirit.”

The first part of the story tells you about her preparations in and around Alice Springs. The second part deals with the actual journey: from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to Hamelin Pool on the coastline of Western Australia; Robyn, four camels and a dog. The book includes of course a map with the route, and a few pictures taken by Rick Smolan, the photographer chosen by Robyn herself to meet her a few times on the road to document with pictures for National Geographic, the sponsor of the whole adventure.

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I think you might agree: plenty of story material there! But the book isn’t just about the story, about the amazing and also scary things that happened on the way. It gives you an interesting insight into the mind of Robyn, which you don’t get in the movie. Suddenly all of her decisions make a lot more sense, certainly if you place them against the Australian society as it was in the ’70s (as she explains in her postscript).

The book tells you a lot about the Australia of that time. What went on in people’s minds and how they perceived their country.

The openness and emptiness which had at first threatened me were now a comfort which allowed my sense of freedom and joyful aimlessness to grow. This sense of space works deep in the Australian collective consciousness. It is frightening and most of the people huddle around the eastern seaboard where life is easy and space a graspable concept, but it produces a sense of potential and possibility nevertheless that may not exist now in any European country. It will not be long, however, before the land is conquered, fenced up and beaten into submission. But here it was free, unspoilt and seemingly indestructible.

Now, to me, the book is extra special because of its setting. When I saw the movie in 2014, I was living in Alice Springs, after having spent some time visiting the red centre and before that, having spent three months in Shark Bay, right next to Hamelin Pool in Western Australia, the end point of Robyn’s journey. The images in the movie brought up beautiful memories from my trip before, but mostly the strongest feeling of amazement I have ever encountered. Somewhere in the lines of: “Oh my goodness that is the most beautiful piece of land I have ever seen, and somehow I was lucky enough to live there and enjoy it myself.” Of course I haven’t experienced that beautiful piece of land the way Robyn did, not even closely. But still I felt it was such an honour to have spent time in that amazing country.

Reading the book brought back that feeling of amazement even stronger. Because now Robyn tells you how she felt about it. What the journey did for her and brought about in her.

The two important things I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision. And I knew even then that I would forget them time and time again and would have to go back and repeat those words that had become meaningless and try to remember.

 


 

(If you are interested in my stories from Australia, check out this post I reblogged only a few weeks ago, or have a look on my original Australia blog.

 

 

Brainfood: A Night Between Books

Yesterday I felt like it was time for some brain food. In one of my previous posts, I have told you about my favourite coffee place in Leuven which is no more. It was a book cafe: a cafe that happens to have a book shop, De Dry Coppen. It has been replaced by a book shop that happens to have a cafe: BarBoek. Sligthly different atmosphere, but still a wonderful place to relax. Books everywhere, a few corners with big and small couches, and the same delicious coffee as in the last place.

Yesterday night, they had their opening event. They invited a writer to come talk about her new book: Isabelle Rosaert’s Dat is wat ik bemin. So as you do, I invited my mom for a date to the new book cafe.

The night had a high level of living room feeling to it. A very crowded living room, but still. The writer had invited a lot of her family and friends to support her, and so did the Barboek team. So everyone sort of knew someone, and everyone had a very positive and open mindset. The set-up was totally living room as well. A homely feeling of different couches, and a single lamp on the ceiling that everyone kept running into. And a nice cuppa.

The event was well thought out. The journalist interviewing the author was also a friend of the author, which made it a very easy going and personal interview. In between the questions, someone read some excerpts from the book, accompanied by some live music. I have to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the live music. I’ll call it “Experimental Double Bass”. The girl was holding the double bass in such an awkward way, it was hard to take her seriously. She had an amplifier and some pedals, so she could record her own playing to play it back to us. That way, she was her own musical accompaniment. I was quite impressed at first, taking an either jazz or classical instrument to a digital level, but I didn’t like what she did with it. She clearly wanted to create a different sound, contemporary stuff, alternative. But the things she did to her double bass simply did not go well on the ear. Or at least not on my ear. It is such a beautiful instrument, with its deep warm tones. The way she played it, it eeped and it creeped. At first I thought she wasn’t very good. Then it started dawning on me it was simply her style. As for the excerpts, they were a bit on the long side. Although I must admit, they suited the interview very well. Afterwards, we were served some wine and sandwiches to accompany the interesting discussion that started brewing right after the interview had finished.

In any case, the night definitely sold the book to me. Usually I am not a big fan of contemporary Dutch literature. Often, there is this idea behind it, “I have to shock my reader”. The stories and language use are vulgar and very much out there, the topics taboo. I can’t say it’s not good writing. It’s just not my thing. What is my thing? Post-colonial literature, like Khaled Hosseini, Salman Rushdie, or for Dutch Kader Abdollah. Or magical realism, like Isabel Allende or the king of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Now, guess which writer has had a massive influence on Rossaert?! Gabriel Garcia Marquez! She even experimented a little bit with the magical realism herself! So to say the least, I am intrigued! I might just actually read this book. Another thing for on the christmas wish list I say!