Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling: RobertGalbraith = JK Rowling. Should we have guessed earlier?

Last Tuesday, I randomly check Mugglenet website, as I often do, and discovered a new post announcing that J.K. Rowling had been unearthed as having published a crime novel under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

The article gave sketchy basics about how the discovery had been made, and quoted J.K Rowling as having expressed disappointment that her secret had been discovered so quickly.  The same article mentioned that twenty two genuine reviews of the book had been published on Amazon while the secret remained unknown, and expression of disappointment in that now that her secret is out, readers will deliberately trash the books merits and ratings simply because of who the true author is publishing.

I hastened to read the genuine reviews, and was as equally amazed as the writer of the article or quotes from other articles cited in-text that the first review stated something to the effect that the reviewer wouldn't be surprised if this new crime author was actually an experienced, published author writing under a pseudonym.

At quick glance, each of the genuine reviews - there were even more by the time I viewed the page - gave favourable opinions about the story and author. Without hesitation, I downloaded the ebook version (not even considering that I may experience difficulties in purchasing a hardback copy) because I wanted to start reading immediately.  Although I am a fan of the Harry Potter stories, I am probably more accurately a fan of J.K Rowling's writing.  She definitely has had an influence over my own, as I have admired her skill with layering clues, and generating reader engagement long after readers have finished the completed works.

I was not a great fan of The Casual Vacancy. I pre-ordered the book the moment I learned she was publishing her first book since Harry Potter, and I like others truly wanted to enjoy the tale. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to compare anything else J.K Rowling writes to that of Harry Potter - as loved and detested as that series was, I don't think anything compares to the trashing and criticism The Casual Vacancy generated - which is sad, because a lot of that story's strengths were overlooked in favour of simple criticism. I disliked it for different reasons to other readers - it had no excitement or build up to its climax, and nothing 'changed', so I was left wondering 'what was the point in telling that tale then?'

Other people criticised - not without reason...

Head-hopping, yes it is jarring to the reader the first time they are yanked out of the point of view the reader has come to expect they will remain in, so fair criticism that J.K Rowling adopted a style in narrating the storyline that head hops multiple times within each chapter - all rules of good novel writing seem to point to 'only change point of view at the end of a scene or chapter, or after some indicated break'; but writers are also advised to know the rules before choosing to break them, and from my perspective J.K Rowling fully understood the rule she was breaking, and used it as a particular style and executed it with utmost consistency throughout the remainder of the book. And, as a reader, once I realised after the second or third time that this was going to happen quite consistently and with great frequency, I ceased being yanked out of my fictive state, and actually looked forward to gaining each of the other characters perspectives.

Yes, there was foul language... in an adult book - oh, the horror for so many people: "Harry Potter never used foul language like that" - No, it didn't. But folks, the book was not Harry Potter.The book was dealing with some pretty seedy side of life. I work with some of my area's most long-term jobless, and on a daily basis witness the language and poor behaviour; foul language much cruder and more frequent than J.K Rowling limited the pages to.

I haven't read a crime novel in a number of years.  I don't know why, I've always enjoyed them, but I have favoured fantasy and paranormal fiction probably because that's the type of novels I have a few different storylines for.

My only expectation in reading The Cuckoo's Calling, was to enjoy the words of J.K Rowling (now that I knew it was her) and to read a mystery 'whodunit' story.

I don't know if it is just me, or even if it is just my imagination, or having the benefit of hindsight, but as I read the story, I was curious as to just how many times I felt that J.K Rowling's personal writing style is so very present within the pages as the story progresses, while simultaneously understanding that great lengths had been gone into to disguise the true identity of the writer.

What do I mean by that?  Well, I'm not going to spoil the storyline for any reader, yet I feel I can say that there are certain 'key words' and 'key features' that appear within the storyline that had me thinking "How does this not point as strong clues that the writer is J.K Rowling?"  Stag, doe, pallid, loquacious, and a few other words that will forever be attached to J.K Rowling and Harry Potter in my mind (at the very least).  What a strange combination to appear in the works of someone completely different. Stag and doe, for example, such strong symbols identifying Harry Potters departed parents somehow make it into a crime novel that does not have animals or forests within its descriptions.

Firstly, the poems at the beginning of chapters.  J.K Rowling has included poems in the beginnings of her previous books before: Deathly Hallows, where readers are given passages from Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers, and William Penn, Move Fruits of Solitude; details explaining the term The Casual Vacancy, Charles Arnold-Baker Local Council Administration, Seventh Edition

And then there are those specific words...

Pallid... is there any scene or description of Professor Snape that does not include this word to describe his skin?  And here it appears within The Cuckoo's Calling.  Yes, I have seen this word used by other authors, but -- it is one of those words that J.K Rowling uses -  almost as a trademark - to describe characters.  If I recall correctly, I remember her using that word within the pages of The Casual Vacancy as well (but I'd have to fact check to be certain).

Loquacious... I mean, this one feels like an anvil sized clue.  Most writers use the simpler word 'talkative', but not J.K Rowling.  She has Hermione Granger describe to Harry that Victor Krum is 'not particularly loquacious' when Harry forms the opinion that Hermione and Krum spend more time 'snogging' than getting to know one another.  And loquacious appears in The Cuckoo's Calling. When it appears, the word 'talkative' could easily have been used, but the author has consistently uses higher educated words than what most of the books readers would have - J.K Rowling was no different in using these higher educated words within the Harry Potter books and The Casual Vacancy.

But J.K Rowling (and perhaps her publisher/editor) have gone to great lengths to remove all traces of her renown writing weaknesses that would have had readers guessing her identity long before actually occurred too: criticised immensely for the use of 'adverbs', namely during dialogue tags, such as 'Harry said angrily', such and such said 'whatever-ly'. I don't think I found even one example within The Cuckoo's Calling, yet, they were present (very minorly) within The Casual Vacancy.

But it was J.K Rowlings rich descriptions that truly would have made me curious, if I hadn't already known the true identity of the author...

The wonderful descriptions of both poverty and wealth could only have come from a writer who has experienced both.  Same with the experiences of paparazzi light-bulbs flashing in one's eyes.  There was an element of authenticity to the writer having lived and breathed through this on multiple occasions, the weariness and dislike of relentless invasion oozed onto the page.  I know I am no great writer, but I feel I can get emotion and mood across the page to my beta readers; and I can tell you now, not having experienced this, I could never have achieved this within my own writing.  And I have read a few other novels that follow the lives of the wealthy and famous, and in hindsight, even though I thoroughly enjoyed those light reads, none of them ringed that bell of 'the writer has been through this', they haven't even come close to depicting what it is really like to suffer at the hands of the paparazzi on its pages. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that other authors have seized upon the glamour side of being within the scrutinising unwanted spotlight within their stories; The Cuckoo's Calling truly reveals the inconvenience and intrusiveness of everyone wanting a piece of you, relentlessly, and going to sneaky and extreme lengths to gain a lecherous scoop.

Now consider for a moment that while releasing the later books within the Harry Potter series, J.K Rowling became known for desiring to 'play fair' with her readers. Harry Potter was 'at heart' a 'Whodunit' mystery.

So, what wouldn't be fair about J.K Rowling publishing a Mystery novel - which is her passion and forte - under a pseudonym when the very fact that the writer's name IS a pseudonym appears on the books jacket, as a subtle clue that 'all is not as it seems'?

And, in fairness to readers placing a few well-chosen clues that hint at her true identity to the clueiest of readers: mystery story + clues for the reader to work out = eventual reveal.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think there was any mis-intent like I am sure J.K Rowling will be meanly accused of; I think J K Rowling always intended for readers to find out - eventually - that she authored this book and its intended sequel(s). I think J. K Rowling truly understands how to engage with readers, and she genuinely enjoys the interaction from a distance. I truly believe that she craved getting honest and unbiased reader opinion about her story's merits.  The Casual Vacancy, published under her own name, was never going to achieve this. The comparison's to Harry Potter were always going to exist right from the release date.

I know that if I ever become a successfully published author (I'm still working on it), I'm not in it for the fame or recognition. I fully intend on writing under a pen name, with the very high hopes that I remain keeping my true identity unrevealed for all to invade. I, like J.K Rowling, love writing... if only I possessed even half her talent, I'd be in heaven if I could earn a decent living from doing something I truly love.  But I certainly don't envy or want the fame or the invasion to her privacy that J.K Rowling gained.

So I read this new book, and, I can honestly say that I enjoyed The Cuckoo's Calling for what it is: a mystery story.  It was an enjoyable read, possessed great descriptions (doesn't all her works), and all the clues were perfectly layered so that it was simultaneously not a - and also a delightful - surprise when the Whodunit was eventually revealed. (I was wrong in my guess, but not too far astray from reaching that conclusion my own self.)

I liked the character of Cormoran Strike, he came across more real than some other Private Investigators of other books. I loved that he was not cliche in any way. I'm glad Robin came to temp for him, they made a great team.  I loved Strike's thoroughness and skill in investigating where the Police had long since dismissed. I loved that J.K Rowling created a character of good motivation, and had him use his intellect.

And, I will conclude by saying, that I most certainly would have enjoyed the book even if I hadn't known that it was J.K Rowling writing it - I almost wish I had discovered the book before her secret came out.

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