Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Rating: 4/4 (A thrilling followup to The Philosopher’s Stone)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second title in the Harry Potter series where Harry returns to Hogwarts for his second year of study. The plot structure of the book is almost the same as the first one, only darker. Much like the first book, a secret that is hidden away inside Hogwarts is revealed pretty early on (i.e., The Chamber of Secrets). J. K. Rowling shows some confidence and ups the gore factor for her series a bit here with several near-deaths (called petrification) and writings in blood. If I were a kid, I would be thrilled and scared reading this book! 🙂

The most interesting plot device is Tom Riddle, the top student from Slytherin who would go on to become Lord Voldemort. Introducing him, Rowling mixes into the story the idea that Harry and his nemesis are very much alike. They both are brilliant, like to break rules, learn new tricks, can speak to snakes, and even the Sorting Hat had selected them both for Slytherin. The similarity of the hero and the villain, or put another way the thin line between good and evil is probably one of the strongest plot ideas in fiction (ever), which will never lose its appeal. Memorable is how Dumbledore solaces Harry about this:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a good followup to The Philosopher’s Stone. The plot is gripping, even though I was not reading it for the first time. Maybe the only gripe I have with this book is that it is a bit too much similar to the first one. Thankfully, Rowling does not repeat that mistake with her later books.

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Heart Of Darkness

Heart Of Darkness

Rating: 4/4 (Deep, dark and vivid)

Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is the darkest and most serious book I have read until now. The story is narrated by a fictional character named Marlow to the author and others resting on a yawl. Marlow describes a journey from his past, on a steamboat up a river in a dark continent to bring back an ivory trader named Kurtz, whom everyone reveres for his achievements. He reaches the colonial station after a risky adventure through the tropical rainforests and finds Kurtz in a near death state. His image of greatness is shattered after Marlow discovers the real activities of Kurtz in his colonial trading post. He now sees Kurtz as a reprehensible being. Kurtz dies a while later on the journey back downstream. His last words indicate his probable realization of the havoc he has caused during his lifetime. Back in Europe, Marlow faces Kurtz’s widow and has to pass on his last words.

This novella by Joseph Conrad draws inspiration from his actual journey on the Congo river in Africa. The narration from the start is strongly evocative of darkness. Everything from the descriptions of the European towns, the Congo river, the African continent, the color of the inhabitant savages, their ways of life, the colonies of the Europeans, the cannibalistic Africans who form a part of his steamboat crew and ultimately Kurtz himself. The language drips heavily with vividness. I almost felt like being in Marlow’s shoes journeying slowly up the Congo through his primeval continent. Though Marlow grows to hate Kurtz, in the end he is compelled to leave him with a good name. Like Life Of Pi, this book feels great since it left me with more than one interpretation. Is Conrad talking of the dark continent or the darkness inside us? That questions hangs in the air for a long time after I have closed this book.

Heart Of Darkness is short, hence called a novella, at just 112 pages. I read the Penguin Classics version edited by Robert Hampson. It has Hampson’s long and boring introduction which would interest only those studying the book. It also has Conrad’s actual Congo Diary in which he noted the happenings of his African journey. This book has a detailed notes section at the end of the story.

An excerpt:

We were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and of excessive toil. But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us — who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand, because we were too far and could not remember, because we were traveling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign — and no memories.

Life Of Pi

Life Of Pi

Rating: 4/4 (Recommended read)

Life Of Pi, a book by Yann Martel is the story of a boy, Pi Patel who is stranded on a lifeboat along with a Royal Bengal tiger, a hyena, a zebra and an orangutan. He was travelling to Canada with his family, when their ill-fated ship sinks leaving him in this predicament. How he survives from being eaten by the tiger and survives death on his fascinating voyage across the Pacific Ocean is the story. However, there is another thread underneath this story that is for the reader to discover in his mind. 🙂

The prose though pretty long drawn at the beginning, gets very interesting after the sea adventure begins. The survival of Pi on the seas with the tiger (Richard Parker) is well fleshed out. Pi’s Crusoesque voyage and survival forms an interesting tale. But at the end, the narrator (Pi himself) presents an alternate look at the story and gives you the option to choose the one you want. That is when I realized that the story is not really a story at all! It can be seen at many levels with many meanings. And that is when I really liked Life Of Pi.

I first heard of this book after it won the 2002 Man Booker Prize and after that almost everyone I know read it. However, I got really interested after I heard that Night Shyamalan was making a movie on it. This must be familiar territory to him since the entire story takes on a whole new meaning once an alternate interpretation is hinted. Brilliant read, recommended.

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