Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith

What I noticed in The Silkworm (2014), and it was evident too in The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013), the first of the Robert Galbraith novels (J. K. Rowling’s pseudonym) was how much time the author spends writing about nothing.  I do not necessarily mean that as criticism, nor as praise.  It’s simply an observation.  The strength of both the Galbraith novels is the characters, especially the main character, private detective Cormorant Strike.  If he were real, I’d like spending time with him.  In both novels I found the mysteries, which revolve around murders, contrived, especially the ultimate way in which they’re unravelled.  Galbraith handles the mystery in The Cuckoo’s Calling more effectively than in the first novel, and even though it still seems contrived it’s bizarre enough to hold our interest.  But it’s curious how much time Galbraith spends describing where Strike is—the interior of a pub or of the city itself—or of what he is doing—he eats a great deal, overeats in fact, and at some point I suspect his overeating will become an issue in a later novel (as will I am sure his relationship with his secretary Robin) —the Cormorant series is sure to continue.  These passages in which Galbraith describes nothing can in themselves be entertaining, but they don’t advance the plot or the concerns of the novel.  In that sense they waste our time. 

The context of The Cuckoo’s Calling is the contemporary literary world of London.  The novel includes a prominent agent, editors, and writers, and one wonders whether any of them was based on actual personages.

It’s tempting to look for similarities between the Galbraith novels and the Harry Potter series.  Galbraith writes for an adult audience, of course, and for the most part she made the transition from juvenile to adult writing well.  But at the center of every Harry Potter novel is a mystery that the primary characters have to unravel.  The plot usually involves discovering who among the Hogwarts teachers is acting for Voldemort.  Evil does exist in the Hogwarts world.  In Galbraith’s adult world, it’s more psychological deviation than evil.  But the title of the novel at the center of The Cuckoo’s Calling is itself a puzzle that detective Strike seeks to decipher, as at the same time he’s solving the gruesome murder.  The way in which we discover the nature of the book and the murder is similar to the way in which the mysteries are resolved in the Potter novels.


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