Let’s look at Rowling again – The Cuckoo’s Calling, introduction and prologue

23 Apr

[Content Notes for the whole spork so I don’t have to worry about missing a tag in later posts: racism, classism, ableism, sexism.]

So, after this post about The Casual Vacancy, it’s time to move on to Rowling’s other non-Harry Potter work, before its sequel comes out and I have to make myself read it. Oh, sorry, ‘Robert Galbraith’, not Rowling. Credit where it’s due, the timing of the leak concerning his true identity was superb, it coincided nicely with the paperback release of The Casual Vacancy and helped to keep Rowling in the public eye in the dead time between the Potter franchise ending and the announcement of the forthcoming Fantastic Beasts film. (Which is now going to be a trilogy, because of course it is. I don’t know whether to describe this as overmilking the cash cow or flogging a dead horse, but either way the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Metaphorical Animals should be informed.)

Let’s start once again with the official synopsis from Rowling’s website – she continues to maintain a separate site for Robert Galbraith despite the fact that he doesn’t exist (by the way, I hate her websites. I have to disable most of my security settings before they will load properly):

When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case.

Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s complex world, the darker things get – and the closer he gets to terrible danger . . .

A gripping, elegant mystery steeped in the atmosphere of London – from the hushed streets of Mayfair to the backstreet pubs of the East End to the bustle of Soho – The Cuckoo’s Calling is a remarkable book. Introducing Cormoran Strike, this is the acclaimed first crime novel by J.K. Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Who writes these things? When I read a plot synopsis, I don’t want to read how wonderful the book is, I’ll judge that for myself once I’ve read it. Also let me just say right now that this summary sounds a lot more dramatic than the actual book proves to be. Taken paragraph by paragraph, the opening is fine. The second paragraph seems to be about a different book that sounds more fun than the one I read. And the third is just the publishers raving about how amazing it is and can be ignored.

A note about the title: it appears to be purely because Rowling wanted to include a poem at the start of the book, “A Dirge” by Christina Rossetti. It’s every bit as depressing as it sounds, and also has no bearing whatsoever on the novel in any way. We’re being very intellectual and pretentious in this book, each part opens with a scholarly quote of some sort, mostly Latin. I have no problem with this, I do it myself in fics and I like books that do it, but these quotes don’t have anything to do with the actual content and are apparently just there to show off. Anyway, in an attempt to make the poem relevant, we will later find out that our murder victim’s nickname is Cuckoo – I’m not doing a ‘title drop’ count because it’s only mentioned two or three times and only one character ever uses it.

There are five parts to the book, which at least helps me divide it up nicely between multiple blog posts. This book gets far more coverage than The Casual Vacancy, because it’s a better book and because I read it far more recently. No rape scenes, hurrah! There is a lot of weirdness though, as you’ll soon see.

Onwards then, to the prologue.

We’re plunged straight into the plot, opening with a crime scene. Our victim has been found dead after apparently jumping from the balcony of her apartment, and the police are trying to keep the public and the press away while they try to sort things out. Descriptively it’s fairly well done, you can picture the scene quite well, but there are some odd grammar mistakes and a lot of comma abuse in this short four-page scene. The POV character for this scene is a policeman, I won’t bother with a name or a description because he plays no further part in the story and is there purely because Rowling wanted to write the dramatic suicide scene and couldn’t plausibly get her main character there. There’s not a lot else to say here, it’s a decent scene, it lets us know this is probably going to be a crime story even if there’s no evidence of an actual crime yet.

Next time: part one, when we meet our main characters and the plot starts and then not a lot happens.


The Cuckoo’s Calling:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five


Posted by on April 23, 2014 in loten


Tags: , , , , , ,

12 responses to “Let’s look at Rowling again – The Cuckoo’s Calling, introduction and prologue

  1. mcbender

    April 24, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    I’ll never get tired of telling you how much I love the “Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Metaphorical Animals”. It’s simply a brilliant turn of phrase.

  2. Maddie

    November 23, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Hi there, I see that you’ve covered the Cuckoo’s Calling in quite some detail, which I appreciate! I work in sexual and domestic violence prevention, and an outreach program I’m about to start is a book club where we talk about the ways media (like books) portray sexual and domestic violence, and how those portrayals impact us as readers and influence our ideas and behaviors. Essentially it will be a media literacy book club with a focus on sexual and domestic violence. I want to find books that we can read and talk about in critical ways, and I would mostly like to stick with fiction, because I believe that we read fiction with the least amount of critical thought. So for a (admittedly cliche) example, in Twilight, we all know how romanticized Edward’s problematic and abusive behaviors are, and how those portrayals lead readers to have very skewed understandings of what a healthy romantic relationship looks like. So I’m looking for a similar work of fiction in which there would be a lot to unpack, but it wouldn’t necessarily be obvious to people who aren’t informed about this stuff. So, sorry for how long winded this is; basically I’m wondering if you would recommend The Cuckoo’s Calling for this purpose, or if you would have a different recommendation? I’ve been doing a ton of research, but I’m struggling to find the book that’s just right. Thanks in advance!

  3. Loten

    November 24, 2015 at 11:28 am

    Hi, that sounds like an amazing program and I really wish you luck with it. I wouldn’t say Cuckoo is what you’re looking for, though, there’s mercifully no real ‘romance’ in it so there’s not much to analyse. Strike’s a misogynist – much more so in the sequel – but so far isn’t paired with anyone he can inflict it on, and about the only positive thing I can say is that he doesn’t seem abusive, just an asshole.

    Offhand I can’t think of much that could work for you, but I did find a series called the All Souls Trilogy a little while ago by Deborah Harkness that I couldn’t finish because of how obnoxious and red-flag-filled the male romantic lead was – it’s not quite as blatant as Twishite, and is clearly not meant to be read that way, so it could be worth looking at. (It’s also not as horrible to read, since the non-romance part of the plot actually exists and isn’t mind-numbingly dull, and the author is much more skilled…) The first one is called A Discovery of Witches.

    I’ll also ask Mitchell to weigh in, he may know some I haven’t thought of.

    • Maddie

      November 24, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      You’re wonderful, thank you so much! The All Souls Trilogy sounds promising. I’ve been asking around, and most people can suggest books that are explicitly centered around D/SV, but I think it would be more powerful to break down most subtle iterations of abuse, misogyny, oppression, etc. So thank you, I really appreciate it, and I also really appreciate your blog and how insightful you both seem to be in your media analyses.

      • mcbender

        November 24, 2015 at 10:52 pm

        This sounds like a really great project and I’m honoured you decided to ask us for input. That said, I honestly am not sure what to suggest, if anything (it also might depend somewhat on who is going to be participating in your book club – I’m not sure, for example, whether you’d want to go with something more mainstream versus genre fiction depending on what preferences if any your readers have; you may also want to consider whether whatever you choose might be triggering to survivors etc. I’m also not sure what age group you’re aiming this at, so I’m not sure whether you’re looking for specific romance stories – which can often get quite sexually explicit – or more just looking for a decent story with problematic elements to dissect…).

        My first instinct was honestly to suggest you choose something terrible, like the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey, that is so rife with abusive/DV-related awfulness you’d never run out of things to discuss… but honestly, you want people to actually come back to your book club, so torturing them with unreadable dreck may not be the best idea. (More realistically, for a book like that I’d honestly suggest something like the sporking by Gehayi and Ket Makura at or the one by Jenny Trout , to temper it with some actual humour and intelligent commentary pushing back against the story itself. But that would defeat the purpose of the book club somewhat, which would be to actually think about that sort of thing yourselves.)

        The next thing to come to mind was maybe a classic like Wuthering Heights that’s often misinterpreted as romantic? I’m not sure how consistent that is with your goals of examining how these things are portrayed in contemporary media, though, so it might not be the best option either (and also, let’s be frank, might give people flashbacks to high school they’d rather be without).

        The other alternative might be to try to find something that actually models healthier relationship dynamics (possibly something written by actual feminists?), and use that as a jumping-off point to talk about how these things seem unusual compared to what mostly goes on in popular media? Allow people to bring in discussion examples from there, link it to other things they’ve read and so forth? I was thinking about maybe recommending the aforementioned Jenny Trout’s “Boss” series, which she wrote explicitly as a response to Fifty Shades, but it is a very sexually explicit BDSM romance and I can’t say I actually enjoyed it much, even if it was well-written and I could appreciate what it was trying to do (perhaps TMI, but that sort of thing just doesn’t appeal to me). That said, she did make the first book of it available for free at first (which could be an advantage for you), though I’m not sure if it still is…

        Along similar lines, the other thing I thought of was maybe something by Tamora Pierce, who you may or may not be familiar with; she’s written quite a lot of explicitly feminist YA fantasy. I first thought of The Will of the Empress (Mark’s readthrough here is quite good and he does actually touch on a lot of the ways that book explicitly addressed various sorts of misogyny; in particular,at one point in it characters actually have an explicit conversation about #notallmen/#yesallwomen well before those hashtags existed), but the disadvantage there is that it’s book nine in its series and unfortunately I don’t know how well it would stand alone (which is a shame for this purpose, because I think it could be a great choice, but the previous books really don’t touch much on the issues you want to focus on). Or alternatively there’s the Alanna series, which she seems to have written as a response to/gender-swapped version of the pervasive “philandering male hero” tropes and relationship dynamics; I think there could be a lot to discuss there, although when I read them I thought they felt very dated and second-wave honestly (that said, parts of it – such as a female main character who is sexually active with multiple love interests and is never punished by the narrative – still feel quite revolutionary, sadly); I much prefer Pierce’s later work, though aside from the aforementioned WotE I don’t think as much of it would be suitable.

        I don’t know if any of this is actually helpful; I feel like I’m rambling. I’ve been thinking about this since you posted with little actual success.

      • Maddie

        November 25, 2015 at 3:21 pm

        Oh my god, thank you! That really is super helpful, and I now have all of those resources to consult throughout the life of the book club (and in general). It’s so hard to pick the right book! I definitely want to be mindful that there will more likely than not be survivors in the group, so triggers are definitely a concern. I thought about the ole terrible standbys like Twilight or Fifty Shades, but I was worried people had already read them or at least read a review that broke down how abusive and terrible they both are. I also don’t yet know the audience, which is another thing that’s made choosing a book difficult. It’s basically open sign-ups, but my service area is predominately low-income and rural, so I’m trying to keep that in mind in terms of making everything accessible and free, though the library we’re working with is making sure of that. I’ve been researching and thinking about this for weeks, and I just haven’t been able to successfully pick something I’m totally happy with. I also considered Gone Girl, but the librarian was worried people will have read it already, and I was thinking it could be triggering at some points. And then there’s the balance of wanting to give people a decent book to read, and so many that would be prefect to deconstruct are terribly written (which makes sense), so all around it’s a tough decision. So anyway, not I’m rambling, but I’m wracking my brain too, and this has been really really helpful, Thank you thank you thank you!


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