Book reviews: new publications evaluated
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child: Parts One And Two Script Book by JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, published in hardback by Little Brown, priced £20 (ebook £9.99). Available now.
ALMOST exactly five years since that tantalising glimpse of a grown-up Harry, Hermione and Ron at the end of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – the final film adaptation of JK Rowling's seven books – the eighth story has already become the UK's biggest print book in a decade.
Set 19 years on, the script book of the West End play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child (which premiered on July 30) is a refreshing 330 pages long (Deathly Hallows weighed in at 600+) and can be devoured in one sitting.
After a while, you stop noticing you're just reading dialogue and the names of the characters, and the stage directions are so intense ("their minds in hell"), they help conjure each scene.
Like her female heroine, Rowling has teamed up with two guys – playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany – to revisit her wizarding world in a new medium – and it works.
Harry is struggling with fatherhood: his third child, Albus Severus (named for Dumbledore and Snape) is starting at Hogwarts and struggling to live up to his father's name.
He befriends Harry's erstwhile enemy Draco Malfoy's son Scorpius (just a really nice guy) and convinces him they "somehow" should save a key Hogwarts student who died in the past.
And that's all the plot you're getting.
There's time travel and dark alternate realities with mindless acts of terrorism (poignant for our world today), but above all, it's a tale about the difficult bond between fathers and children – and, as ever with Rowling, the cure-all of love and friendship.
Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant, published in hardback by Mulholland Books, priced £14.99 (ebook £1.99). Available now.
SABINE Durrant is the former assistant editor of The Guardian who has turned her hand to writing brilliantly creepy, psychological thrillers.
With dark tales like Gone Girl being all the rage, Lie With Me has the makings of another best seller. That is, dislikeable characters, dysfunctional families, an unreliable narrator and a claustrophobic world you just can't tear yourself away from.
Paul is a 40-something, broke, failed writer who still lives at home with his mother. He's also a prolific liar, who gets by through using people for money, sex and anything else he can get out of them.
When he manages to get invited on a family holiday to Greece with his latest love interest, he thinks he's in for a perfect summer. However, it's in this idyllic location that his past deceptions eventually catch up with him.
This clever tale leaves you feeling disturbed, shocked and questioning the classic ideas of good and evil; which of course is the sign of a fantastic read.
Out of Breath by Mel McMahon, published by Summer Palace Press, available now
MEL McMahon's poetry collection, Out of Breath, is clearly a labour of love – the product of close attention to detail – and it offers some touching reflections on the rhythms of domestic life.
Echoes of Seamus Heaney abound. For instance, an elegy for Elizabeth McMahon, which features the image of "unhooking clothes from the washing line" recalls Heaney's elegy for his mother: "I took my corners of the linen/ And pulled against her".
While this influence occasionally threatens to overwhelm the collection, McMahon has a knack for using striking turns of phrase: a speaker listening to Churchill on the wireless follows the "slow sure march/ of syllable after robust syllable", a grandfather raises an "irate eyebrow/ fada-shaped", adults advise that conkers placed in the corner of a room will "annihilate spiders/ and restore authority at floor level."
McMahon is at his best when he's observing such details (occasional forays into more overtly political territory seem less successful). On the whole, this is a thoughtful collection: unassuming, and affecting.
NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Water Kingdom: A Secret History Of China by Philip Ball, published in hardback by Bodley Head, priced £25 (ebook £12.99). Available now.
PLENTY of books propose a history of the world or a nation in terms of some single, attention-grabbing item or commodity, but Ball's look at China through the nation's relationship to water is more plausible and less gimmicky than most.
The Yellow and Yangtze rivers function on a scale beyond anything in Europe; over the millennia they have been responsible both for China's most fertile land, and for regular disasters with staggering death tolls.
As such, efforts to tame them stretch back into prehistory, and are baked into the language: "the Chinese character for political power and governance, zhi, is comprised of fragments... implying that state rule is a platform built on water".
From those early 'water heroes', through the long imperial period, to the polluted rivers and dried-out lakes threatening modern China's economic progress, Ball offers a compelling and evocative insight into a history still little understood in the West.