The Wizard Behind Harry Potter
John Blake, €9.66

Marc Shapiro is an entertainment journalist based in California who also writes well-timed unauthorised celebrity biographies: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Gillian Anderson, Mariah Carey, Sarah Jessica Parker and Carlos Santana can be counted among his victims. His most recent is a biography of the late George Harrison (published February 2002) - you get the picture.

Shapiro's method is to cut and paste quotes from various media sources in order to shape a narrative that tells the story of his subject's life. Internet, broadcast and print are readily pillaged and it quickly becomes apparent that not only has the author not interviewed Rowling for this book, neither has he personally spoken to anyone who knows her.

There is no original research here, Shapiro manages to (barely) fill 125 pages with speculation and supposition presented as fact. His description of how Rowling writes is particularly nauseating: "A smile crosses her face. Her already expressive eyes, framed by long wavy hair, grow even wider. Her pen slashes across the paper like a lightening bolt..."

Apart from the sugary sweet excesses of the prose, the book is littered with inaccuracies and out of date information. Shapiro refers to the fourth Harry Potter instalment by its early rumoured title ('The Doomspell Tournament') despite the fact that 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' was to be found in book shops in July 2000. He also states that a film is planned, when the first of an expected series was released last November.

The rags-to-riches story of Rowling's life may be common knowledge to anyone with even a passing interest, but her fans already know much, much more about 'The Wizard behind Harry Potter' than Shapiro does. He tells us that she liked to tell stories as a kid, she didn't fit in at school, she studied French at university, she went to France for a year, she has a daughter from an unsuccessful marriage to a Portuguese man, she wrote the first Harry Potter book on welfare...

In the end, this book reads like a school report for which a certain number of words had to be reached. With constant cliché and repetition, Shapiro refers to his subject throughout as Joanne Kathleen Rowling, presumably to fill space. It took just under one hour to read, which is probably as long as it took Shapiro to write.

Cristín Leach