The Orchardist

The Orchardist is a book that is at peace with violence as a fact of life closely seated near beauty. The characters face horrific tragedy and the plot revolves around it. The prose is not over-emotional, yet it is pregnant with emotion through the personages, who are like cartoon characters reactions to what they face and the descriptive nature of certain passages. (I sighed over certain passages for the sheer beauty). The plot is strong but it isn’t the sole focus. The focus instead is the people, their inner worlds, their regrets, their private hopes, the truths they face about themselves and one another. Present within the text is a recognition that life is ugly, and that within that horrific lack of beauty is a potential for love that is bounded in the things we face, and the truths we reveal to one another, and what we can withstand. Secrets begin the tale, but it is within those secrets that love is planted. Yet the author maintains distance throughout. Quotation marks are left off all dialogue, creating the sensation that we are remembering the book rather than reading it. Violence, and joy too, is smoothed by the aloofness created by this muffing out of speech. It’s difficult at times to be certain if the characters are speaking now.

Or if we are listening in on their story a hundred years later. This distance from the action creates a faraway texture that intrigues me: violence is refined, buffered. We are made to receive the tale through the characters' memories, through each of their jaded and all-too-human perspectives. In contrast, the descriptive moments are as close as a leaf dripping with dew filling an entire canvas. Life is in the little moments, this says to me. Life is in the beautiful. Contrast is created by the placement of scenes, as well. At one point a joyful campside scene at twilight is contrasted with a scene of violence and a hollowing out of hope that shatters the prior sweetness. It's in those quick contrasts that the author creates her tension and speaks her point: that it’s the butting up of violence against love that births memories, and it’s the memories, the emotions, the love that makes a life. Especially in the middle of the book, chapters come by so quickly the author risks losing her audience as she flicks between characters, perspectives and memories. But she never lost me. Euphoric hope collides with loss which melts into the rebirth of hope. Cathartic.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I’ve just moments ago finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban! So very good! I have piles and piles of books I need to read, so I hadn’t planned to pick up the next in the series for a few months at least. When I finished tonight, I felt this sad “Aw, I want the next installment” feeling and remembered that most people read this book for the first time with the amazing knowledge that the next installment didn't exist yet, which makes me want to wait just to have to suffer along with the rest of the world, a few years into the future. This is definitely my favorite in the series so far. I love how Rowling opens and closes each book in Muggle world, almost like a theater curtain rising and falling. She’s reminding us that Harry lives in a fanciful world, and that his next experience at Hogwarts there will wait for his readers. When I finish one of the books, I feel like the house lights have gone on and I’m reminded it’s 2012 and I’m a Muggle! I love all the contrast of innocence versus evil, and emotion and depth versus magic and action in this book. I love the intrigue throughout, and the intricate “I didn’t see that coming” finishes! The plot had me hooked pretty quickly (though I do feel restless when a book starts at the Dursleys’ house; I want to get back to Hogwarts). This book felt less funny to me than the first two, which I confess I was dreading a bit. People told me Books 3 and 4 veer away from the “children’s literature” feel, but I love children’s literature. So I sort of worried the books would become dull. The humor in the first two books really made me laugh. Earwax and vomit jellybeans!

The humor is comparatively minimal in this book. (Although the talking mirror made me laugh!) There’s much more tension among Harry, Ron and Hermione. I noticed some hormones in Harry at one of the quidditch matches when he looked at a girl, so I assume that element of his story will build as the books go forward. I haven’t felt much like reading for a few weeks (preferring to write), so this book has sat on my bookcase gingerly loved for nearly a month, half read. I finished the bulk of it today, under an afghan and a cat, racing through the pages. I cried at the big quidditch game, and at some of what happens at the end of the book. Not sobs or anything, but I got misty-eyed! Rowling really, really knows how to sweep up a reader in story! I’m never disappointed by how she wraps up all the loose strings. She’s a keen story-teller! And Hogwarts, amidst all of the terrible villains, is a cozy place filled with friends of valor and honor. My goodness, no wonder so many people like these books. It’s like... reliving your school days in a castle with heroic friends and a magic wand and intrigue every two steps, and this overpowering sense that you are a hero unrealized. To grow up on these books would have been amazing. I would have read them and wondered out the window during history class if there was ever really a Hogwarts under London, and if one day I might turn out to be a great wizard that a whole other half of the world believes saved fate.