Tag Archives: JK Rowling

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling

I had quite a lengthy debate with myself about whether I should buy Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling’s Troubled Blood. Can you separate an artist from their art, especially in the case of JK Rowling whose art is words, and has written an insidious transphobic article as a dogwhistle to the likeminded as she attempts to justify her overtly transphobic tweets.

Working in publishing, I know that there are a lot more people dependent on the sales of a book than an author. The royalties from book purchases probably make minimal difference to the multimillionaire (some say billionaire) Rowling, but for the editors, designers, typesetters at publishers whose salaries are paid by the sales of such books, a major release tanking in the wake of cancel culture could mean redundancies for people who were not involved, who may have been among the Hachette staff who refused to work on her books because of her totally unacceptable views about transmen and transwomen.

Given the context of this furore around JK Rowling’s controversial statements, it didn’t take long for clickbait headlines seemingly flaunting spoilers to announce that Rowling had doubled down on her transphobic views by writing a “cross dressing villain”, Vanity Fair magazine online going so far as to lead with a headline suggesting that it proved Rowling’s commitment to transphobia.

So is Robert Galbraith’s 5th Strike novel Troubled Blood transphobic?

I realise of course that I’m speaking from a position of cis privilege and am not affected by the issues in the same way as someone who identifies as non-binary or trans, but I don’t think that the novel is transphobic in the way that the numerous clickbait headlines would like to imply. The cross-dressing killer they refer to, Dennis Creed, is a sub plot of the novel, an already incarcerated cis male suspect in a cold case, who rather than being transgender, or even actively cross dressing, is noted to have engaged in fetishist theft of clothing, and has posed as a camp gay man to ensure that he appears unthreatening to his victims, in order to win their trust. The novel seems to anticipate the criticisms of real world readers by providing real world comparisons for serial killers who have behaved in this way when Robin compares Creed to Jerry Brudos. Having said this, the novel did contain sections which betrayed a deep underlying fear of non-traditional gender identities assumptions with a passage that refers to a character being “hoodwinked by a careful performance of femininity” which did make me wince, but all in all, I don’t think that these aspects of the novel would have been unremarked upon had it not been for Rowling’s “series of unfortunate tweets”.

The book in itself was an improvement on Lethal White, but still suffers from Galbraith (or Rowling) being too big to be reined in by her editor. The story itself was well executed, but indulged too many diversions in the name of characterisation which diverted from the plot and added little to the story. Robin’s quest for a new perfume, the dinner party Robin’s flatmate holds for Strike, Ilsa’s miscarriage, and the entire bloody Charlotte Ross subplot would have benefitted from a liberal application of red pen to tighten the novel up.

What really gets me with Rowling’s writing, and I suppose there’s an argument that this is an aspect of most genre fiction, but I think Rowling is particularly guilty of this, is that I find that she devotes an excessive amount of time expanding upon the background and psyche of her favoured main characters (honestly, the word count wasted throughout the novel musing on Robin’s bloody perfume choices…) while writing many of the characters as lazy archetypes- the Bengali doctor, the strong black woman, the bitter spinster, the airheaded mockney receptionist… and that brings me to another of my issues with Rowling’s writing- the insistence upon writing in dialect. I’m sure that this is intended to give colour to her writing, but it seems to me that it implies a level of class judgement, at one point Strike tells a working class character that they do a good middle class accent… what the flip is a middle class accent??? Why does Rowling write a Scots accent, or a cockney accent phonetically, when she writes an RP accent, or Robin’s Yorkshire accent in standard English after describing them as such? It seems to me to come back to this idea of the archetype, the Scottish ex-squaddie is written in some kind of mock Scots to flesh out his archetype, and so is the cockney secretary, whereas the characters who are worthy of her attention are worthy of standard English dialect… Maybe you can get away with it in children’s books, but I think it needs to be better executed in an adult’s book.

My feeling is that the books are becoming too invested in drawing out a relationship between Robin and Strike, and less on solving crimes. As such, I’d say there can only really be one book left in the Strike series, two at most before it becomes a parody of the earlier books in the series.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith, a spoiler free review

Whisper it to the friends whose birthdays I’ve forgotten this year, but I had a reminder set in my phone for September 18th 2018 as soon as I heard that this would be the publication date for J. K. Rowling’s fourth Cormoran Strike novel Lethal White.

I had plans to buy it shortly after midnight to read on my Kobo while doing a late night feed with the baby. Those plans with scuppered by a trip to accident and emergency with a toddler sporting a 40 degree fever (she’s fine, she wanted me to take her to the museum when we were leaving the hospital at half past two in the morning) and the kobo store not having made it available until the next day. Still, the nights are long when sitting up watching a toddler for signs that her temperature is getting higher again, so I soon managed to catch up with Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacot where Career of Evil left off, on Robin and Matthew’s wedding day.

I’m not sure whether it was my state of mind while reading it, but for me, Lethal White, which sees Rowling take on the personal lives of the upper classes and characters across the political spectrum, felt a little more strained than the other books in the Strike series.

Rowling’s social commentary remains sharp but at times the verbosity which has seemed natural in other books in the Strike series felt a little stilted, and for me, Lethal White was lacking the easy humour which balanced out the darker elements of previous Strike books. It’s difficult to say how much of this was due to the need to cover the narrative arc of Strike and Robin’s personal lives in more detail while also bringing together the various threads of a murder mystery, and how much of the strain was due to JKR admitting in her acknowledgements that she’d taken a lot on in writing this book while working on various Harry Potter stage and screen spin offs.

Either way, Rowling/Galbraith’s sleight of hand lacked the usual lightness of touch I’ve come to expect from the Strike novels, the misdirection less effective with the red herrings that were laid out to distract proving ineffective in leaving me wondering whodunit until the end of the novel.

Is anyone else expecting the next novel in the series to feature another personal vendetta type crime as with Career of Evil?

Am I being cruel to think that Lethal White might be a victim of the success of the BBC TV series Strike? It felt as though a lot of the scenes were writing as staging directions outlining how Rowling saw the scenes being shot.

JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith, so what?

CuckoosCallingCoverIf you’ve been on twitter, news websites or watching television this week, you’ve probably already heard that JK Rowling has released a well-received crime novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. As a pseudonym, it bears all the hallmarks of JK Rowling’s characters’ names reflecting their traits and means Famous Stranger. Well played, JK Rowling, very well played.

But why all the fuss about her writing under a pseudonym? I can completely understand that with such wild success under her belt she would want to see how her work was received by readers who weren’t prejudiced by their opinions of her previous work. (See statement from JK Rowling on Galbraith here). I mean, show me a review of The Casual Vacancy that doesn’t mention, if not compare it, to the Harry Potter books. Even I was annoyed by the reviews that complained it was a departure from the wonderful world of Hogwarts and its inhabitants. Imagine how she must have felt.

Still, while I could understand excitement at JK Rowling releasing a new book (who doesn’t love a new book from one of their favourite authors) I feel that there has been a hell of a lot of negativity and that it mostly seems to stem from the fact that JK Rowling is so successful.

For example:

Suggestions that it was all just a publicity stunt. Maybe it was a marketing ploy, the way it was discovered is a little fishy, but I still think that it’s pretty cool that she did it. As I’ve said, it must have been nice to have her writing appreciated without her name being considered. Let’s face it, publicity stunt or not, it’s not like any book by JK Rowling is at risk of going under the radar. But it does serve to highlight that writing isn’t a get rich quick scheme and even if you are lucky enough to get published what a fickle world it can be. Industry experts like Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown have pointed out on Twitter that until the news broke, the well-reviewed Galbraith novel had sold 449 copies since April. This gives you an idea of why new talent is such a big risk for publishers- they take an awful lot of effort to market when compared to an established name.

People complaining that she felt that she had to use a man’s name as though she’s a gender traitor. Some have said that this allowed her to conceal her identity more effectively, but honestly? It’s just an example of sexism in literature. Male names sell better than women’s names in Crime Fiction. This is why she was told to use her initials rather than Joanne Rowling as a name when she released Harry Potter- because boys don’t like reading books by girls. Pathetic yes, but when did you last pick up a Romance book with a man’s name on the cover? There are plenty of men writing for Mills and Boon, they just use female pseudonyms. Yes it’s sexist. But JK Rowling has done enough to prove that women can right, it’s the attitude of publishers AND the reading public that needs to change here.

Saying it’s all about the money. JK Rowling is allegedly the first billionaire to give away enough money to charity to lose billionaire status. And while it is, admittedly, all relative, it’s annoying to see people giving her a hard time for being successful. Some of the nastier jibes about this have come from agents and publishers on twitter (eg. this tweet from Melville House, below). I wonder if they have a policy of rejecting clients and authors who they deem to be too successful? If so, send them my way. I’m not so fussy.

melville house jk rowling galbraith

So, when The Cuckoo’s Calling is out in paperback, I will be reading it. In the meantime I will continue to read a mixture of established authors and new authors, but to be honest, I’ll be more interested in the content of the book than the name on the cover.