Friday, July 20, 2007

Note to J.K. Rowling - You really aren't very good at this dear

... but you get full marks for the effort... and most likely the highest selling novel of all time (the title previously held by "the half blood prince", and by "the order of the phoenix" before that), for which she is reportedly receiving a far better than "the next rounds on me" deal.

I just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly hallows. I grabbed a copy online last night; and it matches the text photographed from the leakers last week, so I'm going to assume it's legit.

Before we continue, a note to any of you concerned about copyright. I own a copy of the book, it was shipped to me yesterday and should arrive tomorrow, thus obtaining a backup copy for my own personal use is within fair use. Now sod off.

I got my full copy last night at almost exactly 11pm, I took a half hour or so for a snack around 3am, and I finished reading at 5:17 am... so a bit more than 5:30 for 748 pages. Rowling definitely knows how to write at a readable novel.

That said, overall the book was a mess. Trying to resolve too many points at once, leaving too many things hanging.. there's never any real coherence or theme or any single clear narrative thread or voice.

The fact of the matter is, from a purely technical standpoint, Rowling is a terrible writer. This is not exactly a revelation; the same structural problems have been with her since book one; though they have been magnified in the last three books as her subject matter has strayed further from the juvenile fantasy mold into more adult themes and storylines.

Thing is though, she's told a terrific story with wonderful characters; and I mean that in every sense. Her characters are in fact full of wonder, and hope, and joy, and pain, and sorrow and fear... They're real people; and they are real people you want to know.

This book however had the weakest characterization of the series; the weakest dialog; and very little character development for anyone but Harry... and perhaps surprisingly for Neville Longbottom, though he receives little time in the narrative...

Actually, that's generally the problem. Rowling tries to weave so many story threads together, that each thread has very little time. This leads to gaping holes in the plotting, and flow of things.

Let me give you an example. It's no spoiler to note that several characters will die in this book (Rowling herself has made that clear); but the passing of a major character is never mentioned directly until BANG!, they're dead with no notice no details, no story... and we as readers find out after the fact. The problem is though, we've been first person inside Harrys head the whole time, and no-one told harry of the characters death; so when we as readers find out, harry should also be just finding out, but instead he's aware of the characters death and circumstances surrounding it etc...

Interesting and tantalizing points are repeatedly raised, and then ignored. Opportunities are left unexplored.

I get the feeling that Rowling wanted to do an even loger book than the 980 pages of the half blood prince, but was told by her editors to cut things out; and rather than simplify her storylines she just removed description exposition, and dialog. It an amateur mistake; falling in love with your outline, and failing to make your story fit.

This is what I mean when I say that technically, Rowling is a poor writer.

Now, all technical criticism aside, what did I think?

Overall, I liked it. It's a decent way to end the series. I like how the story lines turn out for the most part; and I like how hard it was to get from one end of the journey to the other for the characters.

I definitely recommend the book if you like Potter; though somehow I don't think my recommendation or lack thereof would make any dent in Ms. Rowlings next billion dollars.