I'm too old to associate the Harry Potter books with my childhood, and I always find it faintly bemusing when anyone I think of as 'my age' (a bracketI'm too old to associate the Harry Potter books with my childhood, and I always find it faintly bemusing when anyone I think of as 'my age' (a bracket that includes people from their mid-twenties to mid-thirties) does so. I didn't read the first Potter until after I'd seen the first film, when I was at university, but nevertheless I've come to associate both the books and the films with comfort. Along with certain cosy mystery series – Marple, Rosemary & Thyme, Death in Paradise – and kids' TV shows from my student years, I've often watched and/or read them when I was ill or depressed (or both), and they have stronger-than-usual connotations of a particular form of escapism: escape to the enclosed and 'safe' feelings typically associated with childhood, without recourse to things from my actual childhood, which might provoke more specific and complicated memories.
I think all of this helped Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to work better for me than it might for a true Potter devotee. I enjoyed – more than I expected – being back in this world; it's familiar and comfortable, even with the 'nineteen years later' angle, and that's what I wanted from it. The Albus/Scorpius dynamic is perfect (a big thumbs up for Slytherin heroes, too) and it's exciting and fun. And yes, it is a script and not a book, and it suffers for that, but I actually think the dialogue does a pretty good job of replicating Rowling's typical style. It has its much-discussed problems, notably that Harry's other two kids might as well not exist, and more problematically that the time travel stuff throws a lot of things from the previous books into question; these would undoubtedly be less noticeable in a stage or film version, where you'd be caught up in the visual magic of it all. (It's difficult to imagine how some of the effects described in the stage directions would actually be achieved in a theatre, and that can be quite distracting when you're reading it.)
If you ignore the offputting title, this is really interesting on the oddness of the 'it reads like fanfiction' critique so often levelled at the play/script/book....more
Heiress Eugenie Lund is missing. This we know from the newspaper article that opens Dodge and Burn, reporting that a manuscript, ostensibly Eugenie's work, has been found in a Spanish cave. The ensuing extract reveals the fate of Eugenie and her sister Camille: after their mother's death in a freak accident (involving killer bees), they were adopted/kidnapped by the sadistic Dr Vargas, who 'educated' them – in his own arcane manner – and experimented on them. But the meat of the story takes place some years after the sisters' escape from Vargas, with Eugenie recently married to a Frenchman named Benoît who has preternatural fighting skills.
The tone for Eugenie's quest to be reunited with Camille is set when she pauses, briefly, to sum up her (their?) predicament thus: 'Who would have guessed that all of this tragedy would befall us, that we would lose one another and I would journey so far and wide and come to this spot, newly married, running from casino mafia and the law?' At first, I found this bad and stagy, but I later came to see this voice as part of the book's charm. Eugenie and Benoît's flight becomes an acid-soaked misadventure across several states, with competing aims: on the one hand, to lie low; on the other, to find Camille and ultimately kill Vargas. Eugenie shifts in and out of consciousness and, accordingly, in and out of different realities, seeing visions and finding clues. She has spiritual and psychic connections with Camille and believes these can help them reunite, but when she's constantly tripping, can anything she says be trusted?
The story bursts with colour and energy. Characters are geniuses or outrageous eccentrics, all of them larger than life. Every page – every sentence, even – fizzes with vivid descriptions, unusual word choices, rapid-fire exposition and movie-worthy dialogue. The plot takes 'far-fetched' to new heights and the narrative barely pauses for breath in 240 pages. If Dodge and Burn was food, it would be one of those rainbow piñata cakes, but with pills and tabs of acid in the middle instead of sweets.
It's exciting and great fun, but it can also be absolutely exhausting. It's best read in quick bursts. At points, Madsen's writing feels like it's been over-revised into artificial stiffness and needs to be a little looser; at others like it could do with more editing (I can't believe someone with Eugenie's intellect would get 'lay' and 'lie' mixed up, and I cringed hard every time I encountered 'off of', probably my least favourite pairing of words in the English language). And of course there's Eugenie and Benoît. Picture Sailor and Lula from Wild at Heart, but with higher IQs; they're constantly pawing at each other and using annoying pet names; I have to admit I would've liked the book better without all their mutual simpering.
So it's not perfect. But it is delightfully different, and it's impossible not to get caught up in its vibrancy and enthusiasm. Though Dodge and Burn has flaws, it's difficult to dwell on any one of them for long, as another outlandish twist is sure to come along and sweep you up in its madness. It also ends on something of a cliffhanger, with one potential explanation for Eugenie's narrative dismissed before it can be properly explored. Some may find this terribly frustrating, but I thought it was a clever move that suited the flighty nature of the story and its narrator.
This is the first book from independent publisher Dodo Ink, and its sparky originality bodes well for what's next.
NB: I backed Dodo Ink's Kickstarter campaign, but the book I chose as my reward was the forthcomingThe Eleventh Letterby Tom Tomazewski; I bought my copy of Dodge and Burn....more