When The Cuckoo’s Calling was published in April it fared decently for a debut crime novel. Though not much noticed in the papers, the author Robert Galbraith got good reviews on Amazon and from established writers such as Val McDermid and Peter James, who praised the novel as “compelling”. It sold around 1500 copies in hardback – nothing special, but not bad.
Late on Saturday night, it was revealed that Galbraith, far from being an ex-military police officer as advertised, was the pseudonym of none other than Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Given the extraordinary attention she gets when she publishes a new book – her first adult novel The Casual Vacancy received mixed reviews last year – it’s understandable that she wanted to try something without that burden. “It had been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name,” said Rowling in a statement.
She took the anonymity seriously: the book was passed round publishers, at least one of which rejected it. Kate Mills, fiction editor at Orion, admitted she had turned down what she described as a “well written but quiet” book and invited other publishers to confess doing the same.
Anyone reading it can find small clues to the author’s identity. It opens with paparazzi photographers snapping the lifeless body of a model, Lula Landry, who has fallen – or been pushed – from her open window. She is objectified in death as she had been in life – an innocent hounded by the tabloids. Rowling, who gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, has made little secret of her loathing for the tabloid press.
Our hero is Cormoran Strike, an ex-soldier who lost a leg in Afghanistan and is now a hard-drinking private investigator with a complicated private life. His secretary Robin is a spirited woman who joins him from a temp agency. Cue some low-key sexual tension between them. Strike investigates various disreputable friends – including a nasty fashion designer and a rapper named Deeby Macc – to build up a picture of the dead girl.
Rowling has never been a stylist and there are some terribly clunky sentences. This is typical: “Hope, so briefly re-erected at the news that he might have a client, fell slowly forwards like a granite tombstone and landed with an agonising blow in Strike’s gut.” The dialogue is creaky and it’s too long – though it does zip along easily enough. When the inevitable television adaptation comes it will make enjoyable Sunday evening viewing.
The more interesting mystery is how deliberately Rowling planned her exposure. She says she hoped it could have been concealed for a little longer, but there’s a possibility that it may have been a PR manoeuvre. Publishing anonymously allows her the satisfaction of seeing her work judged on its merits – but then she (and her publishers) can’t be displeased to see The Cuckoo’s Calling shoot straight to the top of the Amazon chart. Sales increased by 507,500 overnight.
None of us can know what it’s like being the most famous living author in the world. It’s clear she thinks of the unfortunate Lula at the centre of her novel as a kindred spirit: “Her refusal to feed her fans’ ravenous appetite for personal information seemed to have inspired others to fill the void. There were countless websites dedicated to the reproduction of her pictures, and to obsessive commentary on her life.”
Jo Rowling the writer managed to escape the burden of being JK Rowling for a little while – but not for long.
Source: The Telegraph