Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One & Two (Special Rehearsal Edition)

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_harry_potter_and_the_cursed_child_1and2The announcement that J.K. Rowling was releasing an eighth instalment of the Harry Potter story was greeted with massive excitement worldwide. Another rollicking adventure with our much loved, familiar, favourite characters! Let’s rejoice!

Let me disabuse you of those notions now. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is 1) a play, and 2) not actually written by Rowling herself. Instead, playwright Jack Thorne wrote the script, based on a story written by Rowling, Thorne, and the play’s director John Tiffany. Furthermore, the action takes place nineteen years after the events of Deathly Hallows (essentially carrying on from that novel’s Epilogue). As such, the beloved characters of Harry Potter are present in Cursed Child, but in rather different form. Harry, Ron and Hermione are all grown adults, with jobs and kids and adult pressures and responsibilities.

Harry in particular is not the sometimes troubled impulsive teenager from the books. Instead he’s tired, overworked from his Ministry job, and perplexed by his inability to connect with this son Albus (who seems to have taken on the mantle of ‘resentful “woe is me” teenage boy’, so ably presented to us by fifteen-year-old Harry in Order of the Phoenix).

In general, I found the changes in the characters understandable and refreshing without being jarring. It was quite nice to see that grown-up Ron no longer has the emotional range of a teaspoon, and it was understandable to me that Harry would be at a loss as to how to parent his resentful son; plenty of parents would be, and Harry, being an orphan, would be at a particular disadvantage since he never had a father on whom he could base his own parenting. The overall theme of the play was, indeed, fathers and their children—how to be a father, and the struggle to shake off and live up to the shadow of your own. As such, the play was also thematically more grown up than the books.

Cursed Child is a play (or, more accurately, it’s the rehearsal script of the play—the definitive version of the script, complete with final stage directions and annotations, will be published in 2017). Since it’s a play script, Cursed Child suffers by comparison to the books. It lacks the books’ richness of detail and world-building aspects—and necessarily so. Those details would have been left to the play’s production and staging team, and as such, reading Cursed Child is like reading only half of the story. It feels a little anaemic. Luckily though, the characters jump off the page. Scorpius Malfoy, Draco Malfoy’s son, is particularly memorable, hilarious and endearingly dorky—completely unlike his father.

The plot is also compelling—a typically Rowling-esque page-turning romp, which also gives us the chance to revisit familiar people and places from the books (a clear crowd-pleasing manoeuvre, but entertaining nonetheless). One particular plot device seemed a little too convenient, but in general the machinery of the plot worked well, and the result was a script that is enjoyable and compulsively readable.

Cursed Child isn’t, however, comparable to the books—it feels limited by the change in medium, and the timeshift and subsequent change in characters may well be enough to put off some fans. Nevertheless, it’s still worth reading—not least for the little snippets of new information it reveals of the HP universe we love and thought we already knew.

Reviewed by Feby Idrus

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One & Two (Special Rehearsal Edition)
by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9780751565355

Book review: Girl at War, written by Sara Novic

Available at bookstores nationwide.

Girl at War is the debut fiction novel of Sara Novic, a talented writer and editor. The book cv_girl_at_waropens with Ana, a ten year old at the start of the Bosnian-Croat conflict. Her life is carefree, with initially few intrusions from the commencing conflict around her. Ana enjoys holidays and roaming freely in the streets with her best friend, Luka. Inevitably, her world becomes one of bombs, ethnic conflict, warfare and genocide. The story moves ahead ten years and it is apparent that Ana, now a university student living in New York, needs to deal with her childhood in Croatia.

This is such a good debut novel. It is an incredibly satisfying read. I particularly enjoyed the well-developed characters. A lot of work has gone in to the cast of supporting characters, and how they are viewed through the eyes of a young child, and then later as a young adult. This is not a novel where all the loose ends are neatly tied up – it would not be a fair or honest treatment of the characters.

The author cleverly highlights how easy it is is for countries at peace to ignore or minimise the reality of war. Her American family refer to the war as ‘unrest’ or ‘troubles.’ When the exploding fireworks of Fourth of July celebrations cause Ana to take shelter for safety, you can feel her disbelief that any country that has experienced war could even celebrate with explosions. It makes perfect sense that Ana chooses to hide her heritage from her friends. She notes that American family and friends have not ‘smelled the air raid smoke or the scent of singed flesh on their own balconies’ – they have not experienced war in their neighbourhood and as such, it is too much for them to take in.

The book occasionally reads like an autobiography. There is a lot of detail given of the main settings and the author’s experience of living in both countries shows. I was struck by the dichotomy of family life and setting in both Croatia and America. In America her family seems remote, but the environment is safe, almost boring. In Croatia she is welcomed back with great warmth. It is clear though that post-war Croatia is still unsafe – a near assault while using public transport and previously benign buildings like the grocery store now carry the weight of wartime experiences. It is very cleverly done.

I’m left with a number of startling images and thoughts from the book. How can a country go ‘back to normal’ after a war (and particularly a civil war)? How can a young adult of two cultures ever feel truly at home? How does a country work to develop accord and understanding amongst the population when the war within the population has been so violent and directed at the citizenry? This is such a thoughtful novel and it left a genuine impact on me. I strongly recommend it.

Review by Emma Wong-Ming

Girl at War
by Sara Novic
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9781408706558

Book Review: Last Night on Earth, by Kevin Maher

Available in bookstores nationwide.

From the blurb I was hoping for something a little like Ben-cv_last_night_on_earthElton-meets-The-Rosie-Project − black humour intermingled with the heart-warming relationship between (slightly) estranged father and daughter, and maybe a touch of romance. This was not that book.

It was far more complex than that.

It opens with baby Bonnie’s dramatic entrance into the world. Told with visceral and gripping detail, it is almost as though I were there, sharing the excitement – and distress – with Shauna and Jay. It is this birth that marks the beginning of the end for their relationship. Bonnie, born with her cord around her neck, is deprived of oxygen for too long, and her prognosis is not good: “Potential developmental issues.”

We are then taken on a chaotic journey, switching helter-skelter between past and present, between Shauna, Jay and a scattering of other characters. Tossed back into Jay’s past, where we meet his mother − trapped in the early stages of dementia. Jay mentally “pens” letters to his mother, in painfully intimate details, of his early days in the
city, of nights misspent, of his budding career in the “fillum” industry.Then to the present, where Jay struggles being a part-time dad, living − for the most part − a bachelor lifestyle, and watched over by his guardian angel, The Clappers, who is of robust nature, and a tendency to get straight − and rather bluntly − to the point.

Here, Jay’s life spirals into further chaos, disorientating the reader as much as the character. It is madcap and fast-paced, the kind of book where you feel like you’re clutching at the edges trying to keep up with what is going on; where you have just settled into one track, only to find yourself hurtled headlong onto the next.

There is humour here − but of the bleakier, shadowy kind. The kind that makes you laugh, then feel guilty for laughing, like you’ve commited some sort of emotional crime. Some of the characters are memorable − I particularly liked Jane, possibly because of her interview with Kirsty Jackson, a high-flying celebrity with far-too-many restrictions on her interview questions. Jay’s mother’s odd quirks too, make her stand out amongst the rest of the (rather large) cast. I also found Shauna’s therapist, Dr Ghert, with his rather unconventional treatment techniques, to be memorable − if not likeable.

Bonnie, the little girl who is the light of Jay’s life, feels almost like a non-character in comparison to the others in this story. Certain little mentions are made of her delightful quirks − of moving her cot so that she can roll into Jay’s bed, for example − but for the most part she feels more like an accessory than the keystone character of the plot. Her potential development issues are never expressly dealt with − apart from two: her lack of speech and poor motor control (told, but never really shown). It is never made clear whether her early trauma has left her mentally impaired − perhaps that is intentional − although it would have been nice to see her fill a more important role. I was hoping for more father-daughter interaction, and feel somewhat cheated at the lack of this.

There are chapters in present tense, in past tense, in first person, in script. Speech marks are non-existent. Dramatic events happen with a derailing jolt, then are over and, for the most part, ignored for the rest of the prose. The writing is borderline stream-of-consciousness and lightly seeded with words in dialect. Other things happen, including characters appearing that I would swear had not been foreshadowed or even hinted at, being treated as if they’ve been there all along. It is a strange, experimental kind of book, which made for a rather bemusing read. This is the sort of book that you have to sit down afterwards and then mentally dissect to try and figure out what the heck was happening.

Overall, this is not a book for the faint-hearted, but if you are someone who loves a mental challenge and a literary rollercoaster ride, then jump aboard!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Last Night on Earth
by Kevin Maher
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9781408705087

Book Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

cv_the_first_fifteen_lives_of_harry_augustThe first thing that struck me about this book is its fantastic, attention grabbing title: I bet Kate Atkinson’s publishers are kicking themselves they didn’t think of it first for Ursula Todd’s many lives and deaths in Life After Life.

The second thing that caught my eye was the author’s name, which we are told from the book’s blurb is a pseudonym. Nothing piques my curiosity like reading a great novel (and this one is great – I’ll get to that in a moment) but not actually knowing who the person behind it is. Fortunately for me, a quick Google and the answer was revealed: Claire North is prodigiously talented fantasy novelist Catherine Webb who, at just 28 years of age, already has a slew of books to her name – the first written at just age 14. She’s also no stranger to writing under an assumed name, having done so as Kate Griffin for her adult book series.

So we’ve got a jump-out-and-grab-you title and a talented and a prolific and talented author: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August can’t go wrong, right?


Harry August is a kalachakra: when he dies, he is always reborn to the exact same time and place – England in 1918, as the illegitimate son (the product of rape) of a British nobleman who is raised by the aristocrat’s gardener. While kalachakra retain the knowledge and understanding acquired in previous lives, Harry is also a mnemonic – meaning he retains with perfect recall everything he learns, sees and hears.


The Rose Garden at Great Fosters, designed in 1918

These are rare and sometimes troubling, even dangerous, gifts. No more so when, at the end of his eleventh life as he lies dying in hospital, a message from the future, relayed through time by other kalachakra, is delivered to him. Someone is altering the events of history, the world is ending and Harry needs to stop it.

It’s a total cliché to say I was hooked from the first page, but I really was. How could you not be with a premise like that? And it’s a set up the novel delivers on fully. It starts with a fantastic protagonist in Harry – he’s real but conflicted, eminently likable but also fallible. His story of essentially saving the world unfolds in a non linear fashion through the novel, jumping through time and his other lives but somehow never once becoming confusing, overblown or messy. The unique plot device of Harry’s many lives and his faultless memory adds a unique depth to his character. He’s supported by a cast of well formed, intriguing characters and a villain I didn’t see coming.

As for the story itself, there’s murder (quite a bit actually!), historical drama, war, love, espionage, criminal underworlds, mind games, gambling and wealth, staggering technological advancements, ravishing greed, betrayal, and a secret, shadowy organisation of kalachakra called the Chronus Club. All of this is tautly delivered in a pacy, often wryly humorous and meticulously researched novel that is thought provoking too.

I think everyone who reads this book will at some point ponder what they would do, for good or for evil, if reborn over and over with all memories intact. Maybe Claire North’s time travelling, suspenseful and compelling novel might change your mind on that.

Reviewed by Kelly Bold

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
by Claire North
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9780356502564