Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) - Part 2

published 2014







He was met on the top landing by a slight, dandyish and bespectacled man of around thirty. He had wavy, shoulder-length hair and wore jeans, a waistcoat and a paisley shirt with a touch of frill around the cuffs.

‘Hi there,’ he said. ‘I’m Christian Fisher. Cameron, isn’t it?’

‘Cormoran,’ Strike corrected him automatically, ‘but—’

He had been about to say that he answered to Cameron, a stock response to years of the mistake, but Christian Fisher came back at once: ‘Cormoran – Cornish giant.’ 

‘That’s right,’ said Strike, surprised. 

‘We published a kids’ book on English folklore last year,’ said Fisher, pushing open white double doors and leading Strike into a cluttered, open-plan space with walls plastered in posters and many untidy bookshelves. A scruffy young woman with dark hair looked up curiously at Strike as he walked past.



observations: Should be read with earlier entry on the book.

This book was one of the sparks for my Guardian piece on disastrous dinner parties. Amongst the many featured meals, the one in this book was unusual in that the blame for the direness of the event could be laid entirely on one person: the hero, Cormoran Strike.

I complained about him before: He is completely selfish. The dinner party has been organized for him by his sister, for his birthday. Strike behaves appallingly from start to finish, but still feels hard done by, and says his sister is ‘fundamentally unimaginative’. Yes, and compared to whom? Even Galbraith mentions the possibility of Strike’s being viewed as arrogant and deluded.

But still, this is an enjoyable book.

Rowling is a very good writer – there was a rather snooty attitude to her from some people in the Harry Potter days, apparently just because she was a best-seller. But you would rarely catch her out in grammatical mistakes, weird punctuation, linguistic infelicities: then and now. And that is vanishingly rare these days – at all levels. Whenever I either praise or criticize such matters, there is a lot of ‘well it’s the editors’ in response. But I’m not at all convinced – there is so little evidence of any editing or correcting going on, and in the end I think you can tell if a writer has an ear for language and grammar. Rowling sooo definitely does.

There is a nice phrase when the central writer is described as producing 'magical-brutalism', and then there's this:
If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.
There is a neat discussion of modern morals:  ‘A sleek leather messenger bag was slung diagonally across his chest, large enough for a clean shirt and a toothbrush. Strike had seen these so frequently of late that he had come to think of them as Adulterer’s Overnight Bags.’

There is a short look at the world of blogging - very well-done, more of that would have been good. I thought Galbraith's earlier book (The Cuckoo's Calling) read like a book about the 1970s - not in a bad way - but that accusation couldn't be made about this one.

The picture is from the Library of Congress, of a publishing office in Detroit at the beginning of the 20th century.

You can reach entries on the previous Galbraith book, and on Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, by clicking on the labels below.

17 comments:

  1. I'm kind of thinking the more I read about how unpleasant Strike is the more it appeals to me. (What does that say about me?)
    I haven't paid too much attention previously (sorry) but is it totally separate from the earlier book, or are they related?

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    1. She's written two adult books: A Casual Vacancy is completely unconnected with this one. The Cuckoo's Calling was the first in this new series, of which Silkworm is the second. It's obviously going to be a series of books with Cormoran Strike as the PI: the first one introduced him, gave him a lady assistant etc. You could read this one as a standalone - it refers occasionally to the first one, but no spoilers - but with your completism you'd probably rather start at the beginning?

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    2. Hmm.....I'd consider myself a completist, but I suppose the reality is that actually I'm not otherwise why are the stacks so tall? (Scratches head and sighs.....)

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  2. Moira, with regard to J.K. Rowling's writing skills, I thought she made writing the Harry Potter books look very easy. Of course, it's a different matter when one puts pen to paper and tries to imitate her style or write in a similar fashion. I hope to read her two pseudonymous books.

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    1. I agree with you - as I say above, I think she's better than she got credit for, and had an easy, readable style which not many people can manage.

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  3. Moira - I couldn't agree more. Rowling does have a knack for using language. And the fact that Strike is such an unpleasant person, but you can still really 'dive' into the book shows that. I also think it says something for Rowling that she moved into a different genre and hasn't stumbled in the process if I may put it that way.

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    1. Yes exactly Margot, you put it very well. She's an interesting and talented writer, but I think some people just get hung up on the Harry Potter thing, or the YA thing, or 'she can't be good AND a bestseller', which is a shame.

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  4. Interesting about the "can't be good AND a bestseller" which I agree is a shame.
    I also think there's a lot of readers (present company excepted) who think "can't be good because it's maybe self-published or because I haven't heard of the author"

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    1. Yes I agree totally - you think the evidence is there on all these fronts, but some people still don't see it.

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  5. I liked The Cuckoo's Calling and would give it a favorable review, although not a rave. And I did not read the Harry Potter books, although many friends -- adult and child -- read them and loved them. I'm just not a fantasy kind-of-gal. My mind just doesn't go out of this dimension.

    But I thought Cuckoo had too many details not essential to the mystery. That was my only complaint. That and that there was a plot device I had just read in another book and to some degree was in a few of Fred Vargas' brilliant novels.

    I am awaiting new glasses and my library reserve to dig into The Silkworm. It sounds good to me and I respect Rowling's writing a lot.

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    1. I stated on the Harry Potters because of my children - I didn't expect I would like them - but I enjoyed them very much. Some books can get away with extraneous detail for me - it depends how much I am enjoying it!

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  6. Yes, true, but we mystery readers can often get impatient and want the author to cut to the chase! However, I respect Rowling's writing and want to read The Casual Vacancy and The Silkworm.

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  7. I commented on the last post that the unlikeability of the character actually draws me to the books. So I agree with Col, the more that is mentioned, the more curious I get. Maybe I will see a copy of the first one somewhere soonish.

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    1. It might be a good time to pick it up - when the second book comes out, the first one is often offered at a reduced price, or else people start shedding them to book sales and so on. I hope you find one.

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  8. Just finished The Silkworm, my first read of 2015. There is no doubt that J.K. Rowling is a brilliant woman and a good writer. However, if I had any say a bit more editing could have tightened up some of the details.
    Also, I couldn't get into the book until about one-third into it; thought the beginning sections could have been tighter. Then there were some
    brilliant paragraphs and reflections by Strike or dialogue.
    Also, I liked Rowling's digs at the idle rich and at the publishing industry. There were also several subtle political points.
    I could have lived without the gruesomeness, but it was integral to the plot, but I hope it's not true in the forthcoming books.
    And I worried about sexist attitudes of Strike's, especially in its conclusion.
    Can't go into it more without giving spoilers so can't, but when I read the last few chapters, I was disappointed about some of what was said as contributing to the motive to murder Owen Quine.
    I'm glad I read it. Wanted to tune out over the holiday weekend and enjoy reading bliss and it was fine for this purpose.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it Kathy, even with some reservations! I imagine it was the perfect post-holiday read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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