Tuesday, 26 February 2008

The Deathly Hallows

I finished reading the final Harry Potter novel last week (possibly the last person with any interest in the series to read it). As I've got a Flexi Day off work today, I thought I'd share my opinions. In case anyone reading this still plans to read the book, I'll try to avoid giving any "spoilers".

I thought the book was good value, and an appropriate end to the series. I've now read them all, of course, and enjoyed every one with the possible exception of number 5 (The Order of the Phoenix). Books 1 to 4 were all great fun although - as many viewers have pointed out - the darker side got more prominent as Harry grew a little older. Phoenix may have coincided with the peak of J K's wealth, or a feeling of security, complacency or whatever - or it may have just been that her publishers got so overawed by her success that they didn't dare prune 30% off the book's length. The consensus (with which I agree) seems to be that drastic editing was what was needed. Anyway, she seemed to be back on form with number 6 (The half-blood prince), which had some interesting twists and turns and was quite effective in "killing off" a major character.

Unlike some others, I didn't find that Deathly hallows "sagged in the middle". I found the interaction between the characters genuinely moving at times, and having an occasional minor character die at various points brought it home that, as this was the final book, all the characters were dispensable. Towards the end, there are some surprises around the motivation of a couple of characters, which at times struck me as unnecessarily convoluted and made me suspect that Ms Rowling has read too many Agatha Christies!

If the climax didn't work 100% for me, this is probably because the author was hampered by having to make things very literal at times, to avoid readers (particularly children) complaining that they didn't understand what happened. So, while saying "So and so was dead" falls a little flat in terms of prose, it was probably necessary. Again, without giving away the plot, let's just say that the series is brought to a fairly definite conclusion.

Overall, I would have to recommend the Harry Potter series to anyone who loves books - not just children and young people. While the books don't have the philosophical depths of (say) Philip Pullman, they're just as readable and almost as entertaining.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Dark and tempestuous?

On New Year's Day (a day I invariably find grim and depressing) one of my brighter interludes was on catching some of Tony Palmer's documentary about Ralph Vaughan Williams - called O thou transcendent - on TV. A bit later I decided I'd like to see the whole thing, so ordered the DVD, which arrived last week.

Being a twentieth century classical music lover (rather than any kind of music student) for the past thirty-odd years, I was surprised to hear of so many musicians who dismissed RVW's work as second-rate. I'd heard Constant Lambert's comment about "a cow looking over a gate" but hadn't realised such views were as widespread as the film would have it.

Palmer definitely had a biased agenda when making his film. He seemed determined to portray RVW as a tortured man whose anguish was shown in his music. To this end, he chose mainly dark and tempestuous extracts from a repertoire that, to me, hardly ever comes across that way. I was surprised to hear the Tallis Fantasia described in that vein: although it's an emotional and melancholy piece, I've never thought of it as dark or despairing. Surely any composer worth his salt has a full emotional range? One of the reasons I've never liked Mozart (and am branded a musical heretic for the opinion) is that his music always comes across to me as too light and frothy - lacking any depth.

One of the likeable things about Palmer's film was the almost universal praise for Vaughan Williams for his humility, his generosity of spirit and his charitable work. If he was really so saintly, I'm sure we can forgive him for having been bad-tempered.

It was nice to see and hear a lot of people who actually knew Vaughan Williams (including his widow), still alive and kicking when the film was made. As RVW died fifty years ago, several of them must have been in their nineties. I was surprised to find that even Michael Kennedy, who seemed to be in his late sixties, is over eighty! Encouraging for those of us who are well past 21...

Changes on the way

I've been taking a few photos of the Gateshead town centre car park (often referred to as the Get Carter car park), not because I like it but because it's soon to go, and I think it's important to commemorate what I've long seen as a blot on the landscape. Even if it's replaced with something bland, it's almost bound to be an improvement.

I get quite annoyed at people who say "You must keep it", because of some misguided feeling that it's of architectural importance. These people almost invariably live in other parts of the country: I've never heard anyone who lives in Gateshead and has to look at the thing every day argue in its favour. Anyway, the argument is academic now, as the structure has deteriorated beyond repair - it has to go. We're still being told that demolition will start soon: since this has already been postponed once, it would be comforting to have a definite date. I'm expecting Gateshead residents to organise a party to celebrate!

Hopefully, a new and improved Trinity Square will start to appear soon.