When I can find extra moments, there is always a list of books I want to read. Some I anticipate for months, some for years before I find the time to get to them, and some of them live up to the hype and some don’t. Leisure Literature is a book review column that details my thoughts on my recent readings.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell follows Simon Snow in his last year at Watford, a school for magic. A vague, nondescript monster called the Insidious Humdrum is attacking the world, while warring ancient magic families have to be dealt with in the background.
I heard about this recent release sometime last year, pitched as Rowell’s take on the Harry Potter universe. There are some major base similarities between the worldbuilding, but the details get different. The world is also not the focus of the book, it is much more of a character-driven book.
Simon suffers from main character’s weakness, a dilemma I feel many writers (including me) suffer from. Simon lacks depth and connection that some of the other characters foster. It always feels easier to develop and pick out personality for the supporting cast, but it is a greater challenge to define the POV character to the same level.
The other characters are more defined, and therefore more real, yet I never got very invested in any of them. Agatha is not particularly endearing, Penelope is fun but a sort of required Hermione parallel, Baz is interesting technically but doesn’t have a ton of emotional depth.
Overall, the book is engaging, there’s no denying (I didn’t get bored or feel like I wanted to put it down); but it doesn’t seem significant or have a serious point, somewhat reminiscent of a TV drama. The book is enjoyable while you’re reading it, but not really past that.
Some things it does well includes laying out tons of string at the beginning and eventually tying it all together in a way unforeseeable at the beginning (a sensation I really enjoy and appreciate in a book). It also switches first-person point of view between at least 8 different characters, if not more, and does it quite well. I didn’t get too confused, although there were a lot. In general, Rowell really plays loosely with the format of the book and the writing itself, and gets away with all of it, which I find impressive and inspiring.
Another thing which I enjoyed was that there was never certainty as to who really were the ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’; the unreliability of the narrator is evident, but not telling. Following on that note, neither did the book try to convince you one side is good and then guessably shock you to the other side being good, which I appreciated.
Rowell also manages to do some crazy things with her plot and characters, and suspend belief. In retrospect, outside the book, I cannot believe I bought some of the plot points, so I congratulate Rowell on suspending my belief while inside the book.
The plot, on the other hand, while soap opera-level emotionally engaging, seems very melodramatic–designed to satisfy the fantasizing mind.The imagination is cool, but gets vague and a bit swimmy, especially towards the end of the book. I can understand, since my thoughts go there often, but that kind of imagination can really only be understood by its creator; once one tries to convey it to others, it becomes unclear. The ending of the book falls into a cliche category (I won’t mention which, no spoilers), which was disappointing it wasn’t more or something new or stunning, but I understand, the book just needed to end, and the number of things not already done are just getting fewer and fewer.
Overall, it was quite enjoyable, engaging, and fun while it lasted, if romance and fantasy-adventure is your genre. The moment it was over, however, it didn’t seem there was any main idea/takeaway or theme. If you’re just looking to enjoy yourself and lose yourself in a book world for a while, Carry On is that. It’s good and long, but it didn’t leave me feeling awed afterwards or in love with the story or thinking about it. So my recommendation is up to you–weigh whether not having any real gravity is worth the fun while inside the book.