Book Review: ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’

Harry Potter is now older than me. Having got that one gratifying thing out of the way, let me talk about J.K. Rowling’s latest offering, a manuscript of a play published as a book called ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’. The story is set in the same world of wizards and witches that we are all too familiar with. It picks up at the point where the last book ended, with Harry Potter seeing off his kids off to Hogwarts, particularly his second born Albus Severus, who as it turns out is not all too enamored by the Potter name and the expectations that come with it. He bumps into Malfoy’s son Scorpius in the Hogwarts Express and the two sons of rivals become unlikely friends. Harry Potter is now a civil servant in the ministry of magic, Hermione an expected success and Ron continues to be the comic relief.

The play takes off at great speeds, as the kids grow older and figure their way through the ritualistic challenges of being students at Hogwarts. Albus and Harry share a tumultuous relationship, with Harry Potter turning out to be a parent struggling to reach out to his child. Scorpius too is haunted by rumors of his parentage, and they are the worst that you can get in the wizarding world. The two boys are the unlikely protagonists on a misguided adventure that stems from their sense of wrong and their desire to correct it.

Rowling sets the story in the old universe that covered the seven books and everyone gets to come back and play a part in this — be it Dumbledore or Snape or Cedric Diggory. Clearly, the dead don’t have to stay dead. The plot hinges upon the use of Time turners, a disappointing plot device from a writer who put together much better plots with taut suspense and excitement. Often times, it reads like fan fiction, with the attempt to capitalize on a very successful enterprise. Rowling is stunted by the need to write it like a script of a play. Her pithy prose and ability to construct the sprawling depth of a brand new world is taken away from her. I am sure that the play’s visuals must compensate for it, but reading the script does not give you the same impression.

Voldemort of course has a strong presence in the book, but the main villain of the piece in some ways is Harry Potter himself. His history as ‘The boy who lived’ makes his present difficult and all fingers point to him as the root of issues, be it his son or Amos Diggory, who blames him for his son’s death. The theme of the parent-child relationship is strong in the book and turns out to be a redeeming factor in it. There are a few new characters that are introduced in this book and there are a few surprises that have the trademark Rowling punch.

Is it as good as the first seven books? You would do well not to compare and just let this one slide. Read it for what it is — a play that would probably be much better seen on stage. Rowling has said that there are no more books planned around Harry Potter. Just as well. It is alright for the wizard to be frozen in time as twenty. Middle age doesn’t seem to suit him well.