Susanna Clarke is one of those others where readers have to ask what in the hell is she doing that she can’t publish another wonderful book like her masterpiece Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? She’s in the same line of George R.R. Martin (for pretty much the whole world) and Jamie O’Neill for me. Each of these authors have written works that have profound affects on individuals/societies and then sort of wander off and do other things or seem to disappear completely in O’Neill’s case.
This book more than the first four has changed more than any of the others re-reading it this time. I’m not sure what it is that clicked for me, but it wasn’t as much of a slog and I wasn’t as annoyed with Harry as I was every other time I read this book. I did find that the books have merged more and more into one continuous story now and as I re-read them it jogs my memory back into place but everything after the book I’m reading is a bit mixed up.
For some reason it took just until this re-read that I realized that a good portion of why Harry is so angry is not just his teenage angst, but also probably Voldemort’s anger coming through Harry. I mean Harry thwarted Voldermort’s plans of returning completely in secret and there wasn’t a lot going right for Voldemort in the four years prior to this. So Harry’s teenage angst plus Voldemort’s anger equals whiny little git.
This re-read, like each one before it, is about what I noticed more this time than I did the other times I’ve read the books. The older I get the more my perspective changes and the more I’m like oh yeah that makes sense from an adult perspective but then I’m also like OMG WHY IS NO ONE PROTECTING THESE CHILDREN? That and of course how young Harry, Ron, and Hermione (who are 13ish in this book, and all the other teenagers that end up fighting Voldemort)! It’s crazy.
Even more than those two things above, the thing that got me reading this book was how lackadaisical the wizarding parents seemed in this book. Sure it gets worse in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
I finally caved and bought digital copies for my kindle. It’s good because it’ll allow me to read them when I travel if I have nothing else to read. And it’s also good because it means I’ll get rid of my “reading” copies bringing my total number owned down by seven, which I know Tim will appreciate 🙂
I’ve read this countless times and have already posted one response to this back in July 2012. I don’t recall loving this one when I first read it, but I also didn’t have that strong of an antipathy for it either. It carries the story forward in a way that works and I appreciate that. What I do notice more and more the older I get and the more-often I read the books is I find so many hints that Rowling dropped for the later novels.
I think the strangest part about re-reading this is what I notice now as a 33-year-old. The things I notice now are vastly different from when I read it last in my twenties, almost exactly six years ago, and any time I read it prior to that.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read this book or this series. Low-balling it I know for a fact I’ve read this particular book at least 10 times. I read it each time a new book in the series was released and I’ve read it at least three times since I’ve lived in Boston. And one of those was in Spanish!
There were two things that really got me when I read the book this time. There was a third one that caught me off guard when I read it and may completely change my re-read of the series this time through the lens it brought into focus.
When Dutton reached out to me about a copy* of this book for its new paperback release I jumped at it because of my trip to China this summer! What I didn’t realize was that it was predominantly set in two of the cities I visited: Suzhou and Beijing! It was really neat to read through the fictionalized life of Sai Jinhua and actually feel like I know what and where she was talking about for the post part!
This is a debut novel that I probably would not have read just because I don’t read too many, but with my trip to China, the cover and having someone reach out to me about it, I figured I would give it a chance and I’m glad I did. Add in that the book also featured a subplot line about the one non-English classic from Asia I chose for my Classics Club list: Dream of the Red Chamber and it was well worth the read.
As with The Warlock, I wish I had as much enthusiasm and glowing things to say about this book as I did the first time I read it. I picked up this copy way back in 2013 and it’s sat on my shelf since then. I’m glad I’ve re-read them so I can clear up the shelf space now. (I didn’t even technically read it this time as I checked out digital copies from the library to take to China to save space :-D)
It is still a great read and an amazing conclusion to the series, but it’s just not as full of impact or as powerful as I remember it being. This is because of the big reveals in The Warlock that I wrote about at the end and how that reveal is then discussed and explained (and even sort of thrown away) in this book. For me, it’s the reveal I talk about in the next paragraph that made the re-read so hard. It’s one of those things, similar to an unreliable narrator, that is just a major turn off for me when it comes to a book.