There was a loud bark, followed immediately by a deep, rattling human cough that could have plausibly issued from the lungs of an old coal miner. ‘Grab him,’ said a hoarse voice. The door to the agent’s office opened, revealing Ralph, who was holding tight to the collar of an aged but evidently still feisty Dobermann pinscher, and a tall woman of around sixty, with large, uncompromisingly plain features. The geometrically perfect steel-grey bob, a black suit of severe cut and a slash of crimson lipstick gave her a certain dash. She emanated that aura of grandeur that replaces sexual allure in the successful older woman. ‘You’d better take him out, Ralph,’ said the agent, her olive-dark eyes on Strike. The rain was still pelting against the windows…
observations: By coincidence this is the second literary agent featuring on the blog in ten days – see the entry on Joanna Rakoff’s My Salinger Year for another grande dame, one wearing whiskey mink, whatever that is. This one smells, splendidly, of 'John Player Specials and Arpège', and the other one probably did too.
JK Rowling is writing these books, and wanted to do it secretly, but the story leaked out last year, and everyone knows she is Robert Galbraith. The first in the Cormoran Strike series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, provided two blog entries last year, where we discussed the chances of guessing, on a blind reading, that this was by the Harry Potter author, or by any woman.
I really enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling – this one not so much. The private detective Strike seems to have got a lot more rude, unpleasant and misogynistic. This time, I am really surprised that a woman wrote it - Strike is a horrible man, who uses a woman as a contact, sleeps with her and then thinks of her as needy because she would like to see him again. He is constantly rude to other people, but takes enormous offence if anyone else is less than understanding and polite with him. I am aware that it is an important literary trope these days that you must not complain that you do not like the characters in books: but the problem comes, I think, when the author doesn’t seem to realize just how vile she is making a protagonist. Rowling still seems to like him, I didn’t.
As a detective story The Silkworm was intriguing and entertaining. The crime involved is complex and unlikely, and there is a whole raft of characters – it is quite hard to keep track of them at first. (I would challenge most readers to distinguish between, identify and give the jobs of Christian Fischer, Michael Harcourt, and Daniel Chard during the first 100 pages). The view of publishing is nicely sour: commenting on the previous book I said how unusual it was to have an author writing about very very rich people from personal experience of being stupendously wealthy. And with this one – many people write about the world of publishing and writing, but it is rare that they can speak with experience of high end world bestsellerdom: her view of the book world must be very different from most people’s. ‘What was this mania to appear in print?’ Strike thinks at one point.
I will certainly carry on reading this series, but I really hope Rowling will ease up on Strike, and make him more bearable.
You can reach entries on the previous Galbraith book, and on Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, by clicking on the labels below.
The picture, from Vogue via Dovima is devine, is a generous view of the woman above and her dog (OK, wrong breed) but then Rowling isn’t generous about her at all.