Book 32: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, audiobook read by Jim Dale, isbn 9780807281949, 352 pages / 8 cds, Scholastic / Listening Library, $49.95
Chamber of Secrets is a fine book, but even after having read it several times and now listening to it on audiobook (the first time I've revisted the story in probably 5 years), my feeling hasn't really changed in regard to it being my least favorite of the Potter books. Even saying that, it's not that I hate the book. There's a lot to like in it. I just feel like it remains the volume in which the main mystery is the least well-developed; it's the book in which two of the final reveal feels like they come from out of left field. Yes, I'm still bothered by the way Ginny is absent for most of the book yet stands revealed in the end as a main component of what has been going on at the school all year long. I felt like there should have been more indicators than the occasional "Ginny looks like she's got a stomach ache" toss-off line. I also think the reveal of Lucius Malfoy's connection is a bit of a stretch, although there at least you can go back to the beginning of the book and think "okay, yeah, I guess that happened."
However, as I said, even with that dissatisfaction, there's still plenty to like. Gilderoy Lockhart remains one of my favorite smarmy, self-involved characters of all time. I can't help but picture Kenneth Brannagh when I reread the book, and even with Jim Dale's slightly different take on the voice of the character, I still felt Brannagh's presence. And of course, Rowling used this book to set up so much of what will come later: the mystery of Harry's shared abilities with Lord Voldemort, the Harry-Draco Quidditch rivarly, the possibility that rather than being the Heir of Slytherin, Harry is actually the Heir of Gryffindor, and of course the introductory mention of Azkaban prison. While Nearly Headless Nick's Deathday party feels like a bit of a waste of space considering the smaller and smaller roles the ghosts play as the series evolves, it is still a fun diversion.
Jim Dale, of course, does his usual stellar job at performing the book and giving characters individual voices. It is a little tough listening to these while driving because his voice is just so darn soothing, but if I don't listen to them on the road, I never will!