Hurry Potter: speed-reading critics rush reviews

LONDON (Reuters) - Spare a thought for the reviewers of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”.

A copy of the new "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" by J.K. Rowling is seen at a counter as fans queue up during its release at a bookstore in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad July 21, 2007. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

The seventh and final book in the boy wizard series was released at one minute past midnight, British time, on Saturday, and in the age of instant reaction and online blogs, newspapers wanted an opinion in time for editions the same morning.

The British version is 608 pages long, meaning critics were forced to race through the pages to meet their deadlines as newspapers received no advance review copies.

Several relied on versions leaked on the Internet or hard copies appearing mysteriously pre-publication, and even those who made it into Saturday’s papers knew they had lost the race.

When the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun ran reviews on Thursday, author J.K. Rowling was furious. Readers of the latter could argue that it heavily hinted at the answer to the most burning question of all -- does Harry die at the end?

Mainstream media broadly avoided spoilers on Saturday, although the Daily Telegraph’s online review featured a separate link to a plot synopsis containing many big secrets.

But most critics agreed that the hype surrounding the blockbuster book was justified.

Britain’s bestselling daily Sun tabloid employed speed-reading champion Anne Jones to write its review. She took just 47 minutes and one second to read the U.S. version, but still had time to conclude:

“Without being too critical, the plot does seem to be a bit complicated, but I would not change a word. ‘Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows’ is a real page-turner.”


Kate Muir, reviewer for the Times of London, also admitted to speed-reading the book, but was impressed nonetheless.

“This chest-crusher of a book ends the Harry Potter series with a bang,” she said. “The plot hatched over 17 years of writing clicks into place, loose ends interlocking, all as complex as a magical lock at Hogwarts Castle.”

Muir, like others, peppered her review with references to older literary traditions, including Arthurian and Greek myth, and remarked that evil Voldemort’s methods were reminiscent of the Nazi Holocaust.

Her main complaint was that some passages were a “bit of a snooze unless you are a Potter-junkie”.

Mary Carole McCauley of the Baltimore Sun, one of two reviewers to draw Rowling’s ire two days before publication, argued that the plot was probably too complicated, despite praising many other aspects of the book.

“That’s 10 distinctly different magical objects, all with their own significance,” she wrote. “Trying to keep them all straight is not unlike searching for the golden snitch in a hotly contested game of Quidditch.”

The New York Times was glowing in its praise.

“Ms. Rowling has fitted together the jigsaw-puzzle pieces of this long undertaking with Dickensian ingenuity and ardor,” it said in its pre-publication review.