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Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Silkworm: Part Three

Last time on The Baby Silk Moth, everyone was terrible. This time… well, this probably adequately sums up my current opinion of this book.

moth

I feel moths are too nifty to be associated with this pile of shite. And I still don’t know what silkworms have to do with this book anyway, unless it expresses the reader’s desire to be boiled alive rather than continue reading it. There aren’t any trigger warnings, this isn’t a Casual Vacancy level of rage… it’s just that all these characters are terrible and I’m tired of reading about them.

So it’s time for you all to share my pain.


Chapter Eight sees Strike on the Tube travelling to meet Agent Liz and thinking about Robin. Rather incoherently. He starts by thinking that she never reproached him for taking on the Quine case even though she must be expecting a pay rise, which makes no sense. You might as well say she didn’t reproach him for it even though she likes cheese. It’s a complete non sequitur. I think we’re meant to infer that Leonora isn’t going to pay Strike’s fee or get anyone else to pay it, therefore the business will lose money, therefore Robin won’t get a raise, but 1) we have no reason to think she’s not going to pay if Agent Liz doesn’t, and 2) Strike has plenty of other clients and several have been referred to as ‘celebrities’ of one sort or another.

At this point there had better be a reason why Strike has no money; we had better find out later in the book that he’s donating it all to charity or secretly supporting an illegitimate child or struggling with a gambling addiction or has massive debts from somewhere, because this is just bloody stupid. Being a PI is a very skilled job and it pays very well accordingly. There is zero reason why Strike would have no money now that his business is established and doing well. Rowling just likes the angst factor of poor characters, while seeming to have utterly forgotten how poverty actually works.

Instead of acknowledging that this was a stupid thing to think, Strike decides that the reason Robin never reproached him for it was that she is a saintly woman unlike all other women and has chosen not to criticise him as all other women do. Think I’m kidding?

“She was unusual in her lack of criticism, or critical silence; the only female in Strike’s life who seemed to have no desire to improve or correct him. Women, in his experience, often expected you to understand that it was a measure of how much they loved you that they tried their damnedest to change you.”

Note that use of ‘female’ there over ‘woman’, or even ‘human’ or ‘person’. In any case, the women in Strike’s life that we know of at this point consist of his Cornish aunt who chatted with him on the phone without realising that even though he called her he didn’t actually want to talk to her, his half-sister who’s invited him to dinner, and Saint Robin herself. And while we were told a lot of negative things about his ex-fiancée in the previous book, her constant desire to change Strike was never mentioned. So there is absolutely nothing to support this bitter misogyny that Strike has pulled out of his arse.

I’d also like to point out that despite my original impression, Robin is literally merely Strike’s employee, not his partner or future partner or whatever (I’d hesitate to even call them friends, honestly). I’ve never yet worked anywhere where I could criticise my boss without fear of the consequences, particularly not over business decisions.

This is a long rant for half a page of narrative, but Strike is pissing me off. Especially since he then starts thinking about how Robin’s going to get married in seven weeks and focuses on the fact that he doesn’t know her fiancé’s surname, though why this matters isn’t stated. And he immediately thinks that maybe it would be a good idea to call the soon-to-be-divorced client Robin was being so catty about last chapter, because she made it clear that she’d love to sleep with him, and this is clearly an appropriate response to learning that his receptionist is going to get married.

First, give the woman a name and treat her like a character. This is literal objectification. Second, based on Strike’s judgements of every person he’s met so far, including last book when he decided several characters were flirting with him based on no evidence whatsoever, I’m going to say that the woman didn’t do anything of the sort and he’s just assuming she’d be up for it. Third, go fuck yourself with your own false leg.

He dismisses the idea, but I suspect not for long, and goes back to thinking about Leonora. He decides that he took the case out of curiosity and because a missing-persons case would make a nice change after the ‘endless variations on cupidity and vengefulness‘ that his ‘wealthy‘ clients keep bringing him. Being poor, how does it work? Whatever.

Agent Liz’s publishing house is in a residential area for no reason I can fathom, and it’s a nice old building that’s falling into disrepair. I’ll spare you the long descriptions. We briefly meet a couple of employees, Ralph and Sally (the narrative points out frequently that Sally is very nervous and uncertain, while not commenting on Ralph’s ability), and an aggressive elderly Dobermann who’s mentioned often enough throughout the rest of the chapter that I assume it’s important we know there’s a dog, before meeting Agent Liz. Let me pick out the key words in her description: ‘thick-set’, ‘large‘, ‘coarse‘, and ‘uncompromisingly plain‘. I hate this book. She’s also older, in her sixties, which leads to this gem:

“She emanated that aura of grandeur that replaces sexual allure in the successful older woman.”

This is word salad flavoured with bullshit. Telling us she had grey hair and dark eyes and was wearing a business suit would have been enough; Strike not being sexually attracted to her doesn’t mean nobody anywhere ever will be again because she’s past it now poor old thing.

Liz is also a chain-smoker with a severe cough. Severe, as in every few paragraphs she goes into a nasty-sounding coughing fit that leaves her seriously out of breath and barely able to speak. Strike comments on it, naturally, and she tells him it’s the flu. She doesn’t show any other signs of flu, so I’d be more inclined to guess bronchitis or emphysema, but okay. Ignoring the missing Owen, they talk about who’s going to pay Strike, and Liz says Owen’s no longer her client and she’s not going to pay a penny to get him back. Sally brings them some tea (that’s what women do, after all) and knocks over some papers trying to find room to put the tray down, and Liz wheezes at her between coughs that she’s useless.

This sparks a paragraph of Strike thinking that the agent is a bully capitalising on the fact that she reminds her victims of their demanding mothers. That’s a hell of a judgemental statement based on one word. But he’s immune to that because his mother was a saint (that’s a change from last book when she was described as a junkie and a slut) and because he’s decided that Liz is a ‘dragon‘ but has a hidden vulnerability that he can see after five minutes but that the people who work with her every day haven’t spotted.

What the fuck is this.

I’m skipping through the rest of the conversation, there’s lots of descriptions of coughing and silent cigarette-related judging and lots of bullshit. Stripping all that away, Liz tells us she last saw Owen when she said she wouldn’t publish the new book and they had a public row in a restaurant before he flounced off and left her with the bill, and that despite what Leonora said she never complimented the book in any way. She was home with the flu when Owen finished the manuscript, so he sent it over to her at home (I won’t ask how he knew where she lives) and she tried to ignore it because she was sick but he kept phoning almost hourly to see what she thought of it and for some reason she couldn’t just turn her phone off or something. So she skim-read it, while feverish, to shut him up and didn’t think it was too bad, she missed all the libellous bits – heh, sort of like how if you skim-read all of Rowling’s books they’re much better than if you pay attention as you read? – and said it was fine and got her people to send copies to two publishers, Chard (his existing publisher) and Fisher.

This isn’t how I understood that publishers work. I was under the impression that if you’re an established author, you are under contract with a publishing house for X number of books for Y amount of money per book and Z amount of money as an advance plus terms and conditions regarding royalties, foreign-language options, media adaptations, publicity etc. If your contract has ended and your agent can’t renew it, you write your next book on spec and the agent calls the publisher and says ‘Author has written a new book, it’s (genre) and (length), are you interested?’ and they say either ‘No sorry’ or ‘Maybe, send a copy for us to see’. I’m reluctant to say this is bullshit, since getting books published is one area where I’m happy to concede that Rowling knows more than I do, but it seems unlikely that an agent can randomly send unsolicited manuscripts to publishers and get any response at all beyond it being chucked in the bin or deleted.

Anyway, Owen thinks himself an eccentric genius and likes causing trouble, we’re told. He also insists on using a typewriter and sending physical manuscripts around just to be awkward. And although Chard’s house has been publishing him for a while, they’re tired of his tantrums, hence her sending a second copy to Fisher. Then her employee called her, having flicked through the script after sending the copies out, to ask if she’d actually read it and he read her the worst bits, so she called both publishers to say it was a first draft sent by mistake and could they return it without reading it, before calling Owen. Owen was too pleased with himself to listen and invited her to a celebratory dinner, so she went and told him his book was vile garbage and he lost it and started screaming abuse in the restaurant before declaring he’d self-publish it online as an ebook (despite being technologically inept) and storming out.

The existing publisher at Chard read it and was furious with her, and hung up on her when she admitted she’d sent it to Fisher.

Owen took his original manuscript and notes with him when he vanished, Strike says helpfully. Liz says Owen has a girlfriend who self-publishes really bad erotic fantasy novels – fuck off, Rowling – and she tried to contact her to warn her not to help him publish it but couldn’t get hold of her, and goes to find the number. Strike noses around in her absence and finds a photo of Liz (badly dressed and fat, of course) with a very beautiful young man, an ugly man of indeterminate age, and Owen (also fat). Liz comes back, and instead of asking him what the fuck he’s doing, helpfully explains that the pretty man is a young talented author called Joseph North, who died, and the ugly man is Michael Fancourt who used to be a client of hers.

Strike asks why she doesn’t represent Fancourt any more and she says she had to choose between Fancourt and Owen (for reasons that are not explained) and stupidly chose Owen, before changing the subject and giving him the girlfriend’s number. He asks if she has any idea where to find Owen since she’s found him before, and Liz says she never found him, he always called after a few days to ask for an advance to pay his bills. Strike’s surprised that she pays, and Liz asks if he’s met the Quines’ daughter Orlando before saying vaguely that she and Owen used to be friends once and go back a long way, and listing a few of the hotels she remembers him using before.

I assume this means the daughter is ill or has special needs and thus needs money for care? I hope not, I already don’t think much of Owen, and there’s no suspense in a murder mystery when you don’t care who killed the victim as long as someone did.

Strike asks if Liz thinks Owen might have done something stupid, and she laughs. He’d never want to deprive the world of his genius, she says, and wouldn’t want to spoil the huge dramatic manhunt he seems to expect every time he goes missing. When Strike tries to end the interview Liz asks a favour – if he’s going to be out trawling around all the people connected to this, could he please tell them that she genuinely didn’t know what was in the book when she sent it out, that she was careless because she was sick but not guilty of conspiracy? Because this is hurting her reputation and that affects her clients, she’s even been uninvited from a party at Roper Chard tomorrow. Surprisingly, Strike agrees.

The chapter ends with the elderly Dobermann growling at Strike and Liz commenting that the dog bit Owen once, and she thinks it’s a shame it wasn’t fatal.


This is turning into quite a long post, but I suppose I can force myself through another chapter or two before stopping. Strike calls Robin to rearrange various appointments and pass messages on to clients – we finally get a possible name for the soon-to-be-divorced woman! Her name might be Caroline Ingles. I hope this doesn’t end up being racist – and give her some more hotels to check because he’s going to check out Owen’s mistress himself when he gets time. Robin hasn’t found Owen yet, shockingly, and gets in an unnecessary comment that there’s no way hotel staff could miss him if he was staying with them.

Strike goes off to work for yet another client, tailing a PA because her boss and lover thinks she’s passing information and sexual favours to a rival company. Fuck off, book. It does at least turn out that the woman isn’t doing anything of the sort, and when she told her lover that she was going to a beauty salon for his benefit she actually meant it. Strike found the stakeout very boring, so decides to go and see Owen’s mistress for something to do now he’s finished it. Her name is Kathryn Kent. That amuses me, I had a friend called Kathryn at uni for three years including a year as housemates before she decided one minute after graduation to be ‘too busy’ to talk to me or any of our other friends ever again. Unless the description is radically different I’m going to be imagining her.

It’s night by the time he arrives at her address, which is a very stereotypical council-built tower block, because poor people are terrible unless they’re the protagonist or a friend of the protagonist. Kathryn – heh – isn’t home, so he stands around outside her door looking really fucking suspicious, and ends up reading Robin’s wedding invitation for something to do. For some reason the invitation as written is from her parents, inviting the recipient to their daughter’s wedding. This is the 21st century, Rowling, it doesn’t have to automatically work like that any more. Anyway, Robin’s middle name is Venetia for some reason, and Matthew’s full name is Matthew John Cunliffe. Very Biblical.

Strike broods angstily in the rain for a while, which is hilariously emo, until Kathryn shows up with some shopping. She has red hair, slender legs and large breasts, and Strike sounds disappointed when he notes that her face is a lot older than he was expecting. Because he’s a prick. That does stop me imagining the Kathryn I used to know, though, which is probably for the best.

Kathryn’s reaction on seeing Strike is to yell “You!” before dropping her shopping and attacking him, yelling that someone called Pippa is going to kill him. I feel that this is actually a perfectly acceptable reaction, but it turns out – after some stereotypical incompetent flailing that mercifully doesn’t include a comment about hitting like a girl – that she thought he was someone else because it was too dark to see him clearly. Strike explains he’s been hired to find Owen and knows she’s a friend of his, and she replies that no she isn’t and she wants nothing to do with him and ‘she‘ is welcome to him. She refuses to say when or where she last saw Owen, insists she hasn’t read the book and doesn’t know anything about it, denies it when Strike mentions that Leonora saw a woman matching her description at their house last week, and ends by slamming the door in his face. Not at all suspicious, then.


We’re back with Robin for Chapter 10. That used to be a good thing but I’ve given up on her ever becoming a half-decent character. Since she’s not been allowed to take part in the plot so far beyond calling hotels, I suppose I can forgive her for thinking solely about Matthew, as there’s nothing much else for her to think about. The two of them had a bad fight over her inviting Strike to the wedding without checking with him first.

I hate these sorts of fights in books or shows. There is literally no reason why Robin would not have mentioned during the endless wedding plans that she’d like to invite Strike and there is nothing wrong with Matthew not wanting someone he’s never met at their wedding. In the real world she’d have mentioned it ages ago when they first started planning and he would have asked her to wait until he’d had a chance to meet him and this fight would never have happened. So its presence here is just for Drama and does nothing except make everyone involved look like a moron incapable of using their words.

We get a recap of the fight. Matthew asked, quite reasonably, since when were they asking people without telling one another? For some reason Robin responded by lying to him twice – she thought she had already told him, Strike would expect to be invited since he’s her boss (what? Is that a thing? My brother’s getting married this August and I’m damned sure neither his boss nor his fiancée’s boss are expecting invites) – before being honest and saying she wants Strike there. Which isn’t what Matthew asked, but okay. She wants to bring together her work and home life and ‘to see Strike in the congregation, approving… of her marrying Matthew.’

Robin, generations of feminists are spinning in their graves right now.

Matthew says this is a bit rich after all the fuss when he wanted to invite someone called Sarah. Robin thinks this is below the belt (I don’t) and snaps to invite her then but it’s not the same situation because Strike has never tried to get her into bed, which Matthew snorts at. Given that all he knows about the bloke is that he’s given Robin a very revealing dress and she won’t shut up about him, I can understand his scepticism.

The fight was interrupted with a phone call telling them that Matthew’s mother has just been diagnosed as having had a mini-stroke last week, which is totally out of left field and stuck in so there’s an excuse for the fight to still be continuing because… I don’t know. Apparently you can’t make up and set aside an argument after getting some bad news? Anyway, they’re still angry with each other.

Strike stays shut up in his office all morning making various phone calls for various cases we don’t know much about, and finally comes out looking like a vagrant (it’s apparently a deliberate look for another case and a long story) to update Robin on the plot currently happening without her. He says Kathryn must have thought he was Owen, to which Robin laughs and says he’s not that fat. Fuck off.

Robin’s done something productive while angsting, at least. Kathryn has a blog, because of course she does. We get a few entries, which are mostly very badly spelled rants about how publishers just don’t recognise good books. I think when I do these chapters I’m going to have to keep “Fuck off, Rowling” on my CTRL+V. Because seriously, fuck off, Rowling. If publishers recognised good books you wouldn’t be a billionaire. The blog also covers personal things and Kathryn hints at her affair with a writer, who is stuck with a wife he doesn’t love because of a Third Party, who I’m guessing is Orlando. The wife is a carer for said third party and is also apparently really selfish and won’t let the writer go despite knowing about Kathryn – so, yeah, Orlando is special needs and Leonora can’t manage to look after her alone and also work full-time to pay for it so doesn’t want a divorce. How unreasonable of her.

There are some comments on the blog from Pippa, presumably the one Kathryn mentioned while hilariously assaulting Strike, and some hints about Kathryn’s day job which involves ‘tightened security‘ and can’t be stated on there. The most recent post says that her sister has just died of breast cancer, and Pippa’s the only one to have commented on it. Strike follows this by deriding blogs, of course – yeah, buddy, wouldn’t it be a shame if a blogger was writing about you and what terrible people you and your creator are?

“Why do people do this?”
“Blog, you mean? I don’t know… didn’t someone once say the unexamined life isn’t worth living?”
“Yeah, Plato,” said Strike, “but this isn’t examining a life, it’s exhibiting it.”

Somehow this leads to Robin doing a comical forehead-slap and saying oh dear, she totally forgot to say, but Fisher called to ask if Strike would be interested in writing a book. This is shoehorned in purely so Strike can nobly say ‘ew no icky fame get it away from me’ while still smugly wallowing in the fact that he is inexplicably famous for no fucking reason.

If there’s much more of this I am just going to rename Strike to Harry. This was boring in the HP books and it’s boring now.

Strike goes to leave and Robin reminds him he’s meant to be meeting her and Matthew for drinks tonight. Given that she’s feeling sick with nerves at the thought after last night’s row I don’t know why she’s pushing for it. We get a hilarious bit with Strike hilariously misremembering the time of the meeting, hilariously, before he changes the subject to comment on Robin’s middle name and she admits, embarrassed, that it’s because she was conceived in Venice. Wow, her parents are tasteful people. I imagine learning that feels similar to the first time it occurs to you to count backwards from your birthday and you realise you were probably conceived on your parents’ wedding anniversary, only you’re reminded of it far more often because they made it your actual name. Robin asks what Strike’s middle name is and he refuses to tell her, before waltzing out.

I would think after eight months as alleged friends this might have come up before now. Particularly since Robin would likely need to put her full name on the paperwork for the payroll.

Strike’s going to see someone related to one of his other cases. He’s been hired by a crook named Mr Gunfrey to investigate an unnamed man who runs a business cracking phones and laptops and selling the information therein, who turns out to be a violent thug happily telling Strike he’s going to send someone to beat up Gunfrey’s son and offers to pay Strike to do it. Strike leaves and phones his client to advise him to back off and leave this psychopath alone, and then utterly fails to notify the police. What the fuck.

He calls Robin to let her know he’s going to be late to meet her and Matthew, inevitably, and oh bugger I thought the meeting would be next chapter so I could stop here. She’s panicky because it’s going to take him ages to get there from where he is, and I’m shocked that for once Rowling’s managed to judge distance and travel time correctly because yes, it would take Strike nearly an hour to get from Crouch End to Waterloo at 6pm. By taxi. If he wasn’t a total fucking moron or an arsehole deliberately trying to be late and took the Underground, it would take half that time, since he’s about five minutes’ walk from Highgate station and it’s a direct route down the Northern Line.

As he travels unnecessarily slowly to this meeting, Strike decides Matthew chose a pub so far away deliberately to make him travel a long way, possibly as payback for Strike having done the exact same thing for all the previous meetings one or other of them didn’t show up to. I’m actually glad Robin’s such a disappointing character; I’d hate for a decent woman to be wasted on either of these fuckers. It’s a very smart pub and Strike’s still dressed like a tramp, though to his disappointment he isn’t thrown out because of this. I’m not sure Rowling’s grasped the difference between a pub and a restaurant. As long as you are wearing clothing and can afford drink, a pub will not throw you out for looking scruffy.

Meanwhile Robin’s sitting uncomfortably next to Matthew, who is of course immaculately dressed and the handsomest man in the room and every woman around is sneaking glances at him that he’s too noble to notice with his bright blue eyes. Excuse me while I vomit.

We get a very uncomfortable, stilted conversation. Strike’s mysterious and vague about his job and where he’s been, Matthew name drops fancy restaurants while commenting on the pub’s Thai food, both men are inwardly amused since that’s exactly what they expected of one another, and Robin tries awkwardly to make small talk and bridge the gap. Since she has no social awareness, she does this by asking Strike about his afternoon’s work in the hope that this will make Matthew love detecting as much as she does. When this doesn’t work, Robin goes to order their food and leaves the two men alone to talk.

Matthew comments that he heard Strike was in the army, and doesn’t understand when Strike says ‘SIB‘ in response, and naturally won’t ask nor will Strike explain. (I don’t know what it is either; I assume it’s the police-investigator-whatever branch that I dimly remember Strike was in before. I don’t care enough to look it up.) Matthew’s father was ex-Royal Air Force, and served at the same time as some famous rugby player, and has since done all right for himself though not the same as Strike’s father of course… To be fair, this is all very well written, it is cringe-inducing and full of second hand embarrassment.  They’re both misunderstanding each other and finding fault with everything they say. I’m just finding it hard to care since they’re both so unlikeable.

Robin comes back and tries to get Matthew to talk about his job instead in the hope of showing Strike what she likes about him. Matthew says vaguely that the firm he works for is auditing a small publishing house who are apparently in serious financial difficulty, which really would have triggered either Robin or Strike commenting that they’re working on a case connected to publishing right now but instead their food is brought out (despite Robin having ordered it about two minutes ago; it turns out that this pub is real, The King’s Arms in Waterloo. I may have to go there because it’s apparently staffed by wizards) and they eat in awkward silence before Strike gets an idea that he naturally won’t enlighten the readers about.

Matthew asks abruptly if Strike has a girlfriend, and we’re told that he’s asked Robin and she was vague about it. I don’t know why. Strike says no and promptly excuses himself to make a phone call, which Matthew is sarcastic about and that annoys Robin. No, Robin, that is rude behaviour when you’re out to dinner with someone; both these men are arseholes but Matthew’s done the least wrong thus far.

Strike calls his journalist friend Culpepper from the first chapter, who he’s just remembered has by an amazing coincidence got a cousin who works at Roper Chard. Gosh, isn’t that lucky. And he just happened to remember this based on a conversation we’re told they had several months ago. This kind of implausible coincidence is lazy and as far as I’m concerned means Rowling couldn’t think of any other way for Strike to meet anyone from there. Like, for example, phoning up and asking for Owen’s publisher by name and stating that he’s a private investigator looking into Owen’s disappearance. That would be enough to get someone to talk to him. But no, she wants Strike to go to the fancy party there tomorrow instead of just interviewing someone, so we get this instead. I hope it turns out that this cousin is the cleaner and isn’t going to the party and therefore can’t take Strike. Culpepper says he’ll explain things to her and hangs up, and Strike smokes a cigarette to take up some time before reluctantly going back inside.

He’s been gone long enough that Matthew’s almost finished his meal, though he was trying to do that deliberately to make it seem longer than it was, and Robin looks so miserable that Strike heroically makes an effort to have a conversation with the other man. I am pretty anti-social and also have social anxiety, and I don’t like talking to people I don’t know, but it’s really not this big a deal to talk to a friend’s partner for an hour, for fuck’s sake. Strike notices that the conversation flows best when Matthew can talk about himself, and notices that Robin apparently constantly feeds him lines and cues to let him do so. Show, don’t tell, Rowling.

We learn that Matthew and Robin have been together for nine years, they met in sixth form (NEWT year in HP terms) and Matthew says he had no choice because she was the only girl there with any brains who was ‘fanciable‘. I would assume this is meant to be a joke, but we’re not shown Robin’s reaction and I don’t trust Strike’s assumption that he meant it literally, so who knows. That’s the only other glimpse of conversation we get before they walk to Waterloo station together and then go their separate ways.

Robin asks Matthew what he thinks, which was probably a mistake. Not wanting to sound insane, he just says that Strike’s punctuality is shit and he’ll probably show up forty minutes late to the wedding and ruin the ceremony, which she takes as acceptance of his coming and shuts up.

Matthew broods silently on the way home. He was reassured that Robin’s less than flattering description of Strike was mostly accurate, but he’s uncomfortable that Strike is taller and more muscled than he is. He was also hoping that Strike would boast about losing his leg in the war and how he earned the medal Robin has mentioned numerous times and so on, and finds it disappointing and uncomfortable that Strike didn’t talk about it at all.

Robin is also brooding because she’s never seen Matthew like this before. In nine years she’s never seen him struggling to make politely meaningless small talk with someone he’s not getting along with? Really? She’s puzzling over how Strike’s presence has made her see Matthew through Strike’s eyes, and decides that Strike must have somehow done it deliberately while pretending to be polite. I honestly have no idea what she’s on about.

Long story short, they’re both pissed off at Strike and at one another and everything is awful for them. Strike, meanwhile, has fallen asleep on the Tube and clearly doesn’t give a shit.

Thank God, the chapter is over. Only 40 more to go.


So, we’re almost a quarter of the way into a murder mystery thriller. None of the characters are even aware that a murder has taken place yet, let alone started to investigate it, and there has been no action whatsoever, just conversations. The victim is such an unsympathetic person that there’s no reason for the readers to care who killed him. The protagonist is tiresomely whiny and misogynistic. The token love interest is just plain tiresome and clearly will never graduate to actual main character status. The other leg of the unnecessary and tedious love triangle is a strawman villain who actually hasn’t done much wrong, especially when compared to his ‘rival’.

I have yet to find a reason for the reader to want to keep reading this book. There is literally nothing about the plot or the characters at the moment to interest me, and if I weren’t blogging about this I would have got bored, flicked ahead to see whodunit and taken the book to a charity shop unfinished. There’s been no hook to draw the readers in, nothing to make me want to find out what happens next.

I really hope it gets more interesting soon. I would like to hope that it also becomes less misogynistic and nasty, but this is Rowling and I have very low expectations, so I’ll settle for ‘not totally boring’.

In other news, the title of the third Cormoran Strike novel has been announced: Career of Evil.

Dun dun DUUUUUUN!

Snort. I hope it’s as melodramatic as it sounds, then at least I could have a laugh while struggling painfully through it.

And, inevitably, there’s going to be a BBC series. Sigh.

Danny Cohen, Director of BBC Television says: “It’s a wonderful coup for BBC Television to be bringing J.K. Rowling’s latest books to the screen. With the rich character of Cormoran Strike at their heart, these dramas will be event television across the world.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA you poor deluded sod.

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Posted by on April 30, 2015 in loten

 

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Seven

Trigger warning for child abuse. Again.


 Chapter Seven: The Sorting Hat

PS7
Yes, I am utter nightmare fuel despite not being described like this in the book. And no, I don’t know why I’m
the chapter art when I have fuck-all to do with the story and don’t show up until the final page of this chapter.

The door opens to show a tall dark-haired witch wearing emerald green, which is a surprise in itself given the obsession with colour symbolism throughout the series. Harry thinks she looks very stern and isn’t someone to cross. She doesn’t bother telling the children who she is, but Hagrid greets her as Professor McGonagall, whom we have previously met as the utterly clueless and possibly memory-charmed cat-shifter in the first chapter. Let’s hope she’s improved a bit in the last ten years.

She lets them into an entrance hall that is apparently big enough to get the entire Dursley house in, so big that the ceiling is literally not visible. I’m going to assume this is Harry’s brain defaulting to hyperbole, because otherwise the freaking lobby of this weird castle is bigger than the actual Great Hall we’re going to see shortly. That said, the ceiling probably isn’t visible because there don’t seem to be any windows, it’s night, and for some reason the magic school still uses flaming torches as lighting. It’s probably very dark and smoky. In fact most of the castle seems to be early-medieval, with stone flagged floors and torches and tapestries and so on, and yet in this insanely huge entrance hall we have a giant marble staircase that’s obviously from a much later period.

McGonagall leads the students to a small room at one side. This room appears to serve no purpose whatsoever except to be somewhere she can infodump at the new firsties, which she can’t possibly do in the entrance hall because reasons. Still, it’s a huge castle that doesn’t actually hold that many people, so I’m sure they’ve got a lot of useless rooms. She tells them there’s going to be a huge feast soon but they have to be sorted into their houses first, and gives us a very nice explanation of how the house system is meant to function. Key phrase, ‘meant to’. The sorting (I refuse to capitalise it) is very important, she explains, because your house will be like your family; classes and dormitories are arranged by house and you hang out in your house common room. The four houses are Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin, and each has a noble history and has produced outstanding witches and wizards. If you do well you earn points for your house, and if you mess up you lose points, and at the end of the year the house with the most points gets a shiny trophy which is apparently a great honour.

This all sounds great, but let’s face it, it’s pretty much just a way to arrange schedules and dormitories, and to encourage competition so points can be bribes to make the kids behave. They could just as easily scrap this chapter and split the kids up alphabetically. The houses honestly don’t matter in the end, except that everyone hates Slytherin. And yet every adult in the series continues to be obsessed with the concept of house culture for basically their entire lives, and there’s just no reason this should be a thing. Mitchell and I had a long discussion trying to work out what Rowling was going for here, because the closest analogy we could think of between us were American fraternities and sororities, which don’t exist in Britain. Yes, we have school houses, but at my school they were separate from our actual classes and had no purpose except to make us compete against one another a couple of times a year at various stupid events that none of us cared about.

Hogwarts is a boarding school. These kids are cut off from their families for most of the year. The houses should matter, especially for the first years, but they don’t. We only know Percy is a prefect because everyone makes fun of him for it; we’ve no idea who the female prefect is, or any of the prefects from other houses, and Harry will certainly never go to any of the prefects for help or advice or just someone to hang out with throughout his school career. He will also never go to his Head of House for anything personal, nor will said Head of House ever be shown to give a shit about any of the students. The house system should be a support network, but it’s not, outside of various fanon headcanons. It’s a shame, and makes me wonder why any fan would want to go to Hogwarts – this is a scary and lonely place for young kids, particularly Muggleborns.


A bit of bonus info about the houses that we won’t learn in the books for a while. Gryffindor’s symbol is a lion and their colours are red and gold. Slytherin’s symbol is a snake and their colours are green and silver. Ravenclaw’s symbol is an eagle and their colours are blue and bronze. Hufflepuff’s symbol is a badger and their colours are yellow and black.

First, why isn’t Ravenclaw’s symbol an actual raven? Just… what. Particularly since they’re the smart house, and ravens are one of the cleverest birds on the planet, whereas eagles and other raptors are pretty stupid and have proportionally small brains for their size.

Badgers and snakes are both cool animals, so I have no issue there, though ‘snake’ is pretty generic given how many very distinct types there are. And Hufflepuff’s name doesn’t actually match its totem animal; I would expect it to be the Big Bad Wolf or something, though I suspect Rowling didn’t want another house to have a really cool popular animal like a wolf so it couldn’t compete with her favourite.

As for lions… well, they’ve been used as symbols of bravery and power for centuries, but that’s basically just because they look pretty. Lions are arseholes. And cowards, and bullies. In the last decade or two naturalists have found out that people have had lions and hyenas mixed up for centuries; it’s lions who are the scavengers and killstealers, and hyenas who are the hunters. You are far more likely to get a pride of lions attacking hyenas to steal their food than the other way around, though only when they outnumber their victims. Lions also randomly attack other carnivores in the area just in case they might be competition later, plus there’s the whole thing with the males killing any cubs they didn’t personally father. Males will also steal food from their own lionesses just because they can.

The Lion King will always be on my list of favourite films, same with Born Free, but seriously, lions are nasty animals. And thus perfect symbols for Gryffindor, frankly, though this was clearly unintentional. Rowling really should have chosen a less pretty but nicer and braver totem animal. Badgers are pretty brave, not much will take on a badger, though they’re not flashy which is presumably why she gave them to Hufflepuff instead. Or just gone with a griffin to keep the name.


McGonagall tells the kids that the Sorting Ceremony will take place soon in front of the entire school, then walks out and leaves them all to panic. Harry asks Ron how they’re sorted, and Ron doesn’t actually know; he thinks it’s some sort of test, and Fred told him it hurts a lot but he thinks he was joking.

Ron comes from a long line of Hogwarts graduates and has five older brothers who’ve all gone through this, but he has no idea how they’re sorted. As it turns out, nor does anyone else. Not even Hermione, who will confirm on the next page that she’s pretty much memorised at least one book about the school. For some reason it’s kept a complete secret from every single child. One, there is no reason for this except to make sure they’re all absolutely terrified at this moment. Two, how on earth is this enforced? You can’t expect me to believe that every single parent, remembering their own fear at what is essentially just a hazing ritual, will make sure their own children have to go through it as well. I have to conclude that part of the ceremony involves some sort of magical compulsion that means you can’t tell anyone else about it.

Anyway, Ron’s comment sparks a bit of a panic since none of the kids have any idea what’s going to happen to them. Harry’s freaking out along with everyone else, to the point where his heartbeat is disrupted because he’s just that terrified – he doesn’t know any magic yet, what are they expecting him to do? Everyone else looks scared too and none of them are talking except Hermione, who’s whispering very fast to herself about all the spells she’s tried to learn and trying to work out which one she’ll need. Based on what we actually see the kids learning during their first year – or at all, come to that – I can’t see any of them being remotely useful, Hermione.

Harry seems to be on the edge of a full anxiety attack. He’s apparently never been so scared in his life, not even when taking terrible school reports home to the supposedly abusive Dursleys, and he’s thinking that at any moment McGonagall’s going to come back and ‘lead him to his doom’. And you can’t blame him, melodramatic though this seems; the kids must all be terrified. And exhausted, too, given that for some reason all this has to take place at night when they’ve spent all day travelling with no proper food and the sugar high from all the sweets must have worn off by now.

At this point half a dozen ghosts drift casually through the wall and scare the shit out of them all.

Seriously, Hogwarts is a terrible, frightening place run by sadists.

The kids don’t get much time to adjust to learning that ghosts are real – Harry himself has zero thoughts on the matter, as usual – but the ghosts themselves are polite and friendly enough, and we meet Hufflepuff’s personal ghost, a monk called the Fat Friar. They’re only onscreen for a couple of paragraphs before McGonagall comes back to make sure they’re all properly freaked out and leads them into the Great Hall for the ceremony.

Side note: there is not (and will never be) any reason given for these ghosts’ presence in Hogwarts. I can only assume Rowling liked the “haunted castle” aesthetic/trope, and decided to write them in without really thinking about it. We’ll learn backstories for some of the ghosts later, and these backstories are almost completely unconnected to Hogwarts (I think the only exception is the Grey Lady being a relative of Ravenclaw, which was shoehorned in in Deathly Hallows so she could infodump plot) – I think the majority of the ghosts didn’t even die in Hogwarts, FFS, so they can’t even be justified as haunting their location of death. Why are they here? Moreover, why are they affiliated with Hogwarts houses?

The Great Hall is indeed great – there are four long tables where all the other students are sitting, and a long table across the far end where the teachers are sitting, and it’s lit by thousands of candles hovering in mid air above the tables. I approve of the general wizardliness of this, but in reality this just means melted wax is constantly dripping into your food and scalding your arms. The firsties are dragged up next to the staff table so everyone can stare at them properly, including a lot of the ghosts who are now sitting among the kids, and Harry looks up so he can’t see everyone watching and sees that the ceiling is black and full of stars. Hermione tells him it’s enchanted to look like the sky outside, she read it in a book called Hogwarts: A History, which unaccountably did not mention the sorting. She seems to be the only person who’s ever bothered to read this book.

McGonagall puts a small stool in front of them, and places a patched and dirty pointed hat on it (I have no idea why it’s dirty). Harry is understandably very confused by this, and starts wondering if maybe they have to pull a rabbit out of it or something, which is actually a really good reaction that helps to underscore the fact that he knows nothing about magic. It would be better if he’d questioned literally anything that’s happened up until now, though. Really, Harry, you’ve casually accepted invisible doors in walls, self-driving boats and ghosts just in the past day, and that’s ignoring everything you saw with Hagrid; a hat should not be the thing that finally confuses you, no matter how scared and exhausted you are.

A rip opens in the hat, and it sings a song.

Yes, really.

To be fair, I quite like the hat. It’s appropriately pointy and magic-shaped, and it sings. It would be a very cool bit of background detail. I just don’t think it should be treated as a super-important artefact and later plot coupon that everyone is staring at reverently and treats as the fountain of all wisdom. And the song isn’t bad, at least at first; it sings about what an awesome hat it is, and it’s a bit gimmicky and cutesy but it fits the children’s-book theme and even the rhyming is actually quite good. Then the hat tries to infodump, and ends up being both scary and racist.

(Note: I’m using ‘racist’ here and throughout the spork when I talk about house prejudice because I can’t think of a more fitting term. Classism is something different and there isn’t a suitable word. I am aware they’re not actually different races – though I’m not sure the book is…)

The hat informs everyone that it can read their minds when they wear it, they can’t hide any of their innermost thoughts from it, and so it will psychically judge them and decide where they belong. (No seriously how the fuck does this work? Is the hat possessed? If so, by whom?)

Yes, folks, these children’s futures are going to be determined age eleven by what a talking hat sees in their heads on a night when they’re exhausted and terrified. I think on balance we should be quite glad that what house you’re in doesn’t make any real difference to 75% of the students, because wow is that a fucking stupid system. And also this is the first – but by no means the last – time we’re going to encounter inanimate objects capable of mindreading.

It goes on to explain a bit more about the four houses, which are apparently split by personality. Gryffindors are brave, daring and chivalrous (you keep using that word…). Hufflepuffs are just, hardworking, loyal and patient, and honestly they sound like they should be much more important to the story than they actually are. Ravenclaws are smart, that is their sole character trait – pay attention, Hermione – and Slytherins are cunning and will do anything to achieve their goals. This is the nicest description they’ll ever get.

I’m not even going to bother detailing all the myriad reasons why it’s stupid and unnecessary to divide these kids up based on personality traits, or why such a system won’t fucking work anyway because of all the overlap. Or at least, it wouldn’t work in the real world, but in the Potterverse most people do only have one or two personality traits and can almost all be neatly pigeonholed like this. It’s possible you could do something with the notion that these virtues are the things each house thinks is most important, but Divergent tried that long after this series was over and failed miserably.

Overall, the song works well enough, and it’s a decent source of explanation for the poor bewildered first years. In later books the hat’s going to change its song to talk about current events, though, which is going to confuse the fuck out of the newbies.

The hat stops singing and everyone applauds it instead of muttering for it to hurry up already because they want to eat their dinner and go to bed damnit. Ron whispers that he’s going to kill Fred, who was apparently talking about them having to wrestle a troll, proving that Ron is an incredibly gullible individual because nobody is going to believe that even a school as screwed up as this one would make children do that, and also hark it’s the sound of the Foreshadowing Fairy’s little bells again. Harry thinks that he ought to be relieved that the ‘test’ is just trying on a hat, but he doesn’t want to do it with everyone watching, and he doesn’t feel brave or clever or anything except slightly ill. Another normal reaction, Harry! Have a biscuit.

McGonagall produces a list of first years, at last, and starts reading out their names for them to come and try on the magic hat. I’m half-expecting a couple of names to be greeted by total silence and her having to send Hagrid out to find them lost in the woods or fallen in the lake or still at the station wondering where everyone is, because this is the first time there’s been any attempt to make sure they’re all here. Interestingly, of the first dozen or so names, almost all of them are girls. Each house applauds its new students, which is a nice gesture I suppose but honestly everyone’s essentially clapping over children being assigned to bedrooms. And in a totally unnecessary moment when the first new Slytherin is sorted Harry decides they all look like an unpleasant lot. Give me that biscuit back you little shit.

Some of the names we see here will reappear later, but so will other students whose names aren’t featured here. I quite like that from an atmospheric point of view, but on a worldbuilding level it’s annoying because it means we can’t tell how big the school is and there’s no real reason for Harry not to at least know the names of all his year.

Harry continues to feel sick and self-conscious, flashing back to always being picked last for sports teams at school because nobody wanted Dudley to think they liked him. That’s stupid, because this is a completely different situation; there’s nothing wrong with him feeling sick and self-conscious because of stage fright without unnecessarily shoehorning in more references to his angsty past. He does at least notice that the hat sometimes yells out a house almost immediately and sometimes takes ages to decide, which just reminds me that I really wish we’d had details of any of the other sortings, but it’s just one on a very long list of things Harry will never ask his friends about.

Hermione’s the first character we’ve previously met to be sorted, and she goes to Gryffindor; what a waste. Ron, lovely boy that he is, groans. Once again, Ron, I agree with you but for completely different reasons. Neville goes to Gryffindor too, so at least he’s with a friend, and he runs off still wearing the hat and has to give it back, which is a cute detail. I’m actually surprised none of these kids have tripped and faceplanted, or fainted, or something. We also learn that Neville’s surname is Longbottom, which I’m sure got a lot of sniggers worldwide but is a genuine Yorkshire name – interestingly it’s traditionally lower-class than his family seem to be. Draco goes to Slytherin, complete with various unflattering descriptions, and it’s mentioned as an afterthought that Crabbe and Goyle went there too. Their first names have still not been noted, and I believe won’t appear for several books; they’re called Vincent and Gregory if anyone cares more than the book does.

Then Harry’s name is called, and of course the whole school goes mad, everyone starts whispering about omg is it really him??? I’d like to remind everyone that last chapter Draco said that the entire train was talking about how Harry Potter was there – presumably courtesy of the Weasley twins – so they should already know this. Unless they’re all just delirious from desperately needing food and sleep and can’t physically remember a couple of hours ago.

Mitchell suggested that the entire wizarding world is under some sort of spell – we named it the Pavlov Charm – that compels everyone to turn into brainless babbling fans every time they hear the words Harry Potter. This is depressingly plausible.

Harry tries on the hat, which covers his eyes so he can’t see everyone staring at him. You’d think a hat designed to audit the brains of children would be sized to fit said children, especially since this entire ceremony is clearly not concerned with something as nice as shutting out all the stares. The hat starts talking to him inside his head, telling him that he’s awesome and has all the best qualities from all the houses so it doesn’t know where to put him, and Harry immediately responds with, ‘Not Slytherin… not Slytherin.’

Why, Harry? All you know about them is that Hagrid said they were evil and you don’t like Draco, who until about two minutes ago wasn’t even in Slytherin. The hat insists you’ve got a pretty decent brain, based on no evidence whatsoever, so why haven’t you realised that’s a stupid reason? There’s no reason why you’d care where you went at this point. I could see him asking for Gryffindor since Hermione said she’d heard it was awesome and Ron wanted to be in it, and almost every kid he’s met until this point is in Gryffindor, but there’s no reason why he’d be biased against any particular house at this point except that the book says so.

Sigh.

The hat questions this too, surprisingly, asking if he’s sure because he could be great and Slytherin would help him do it, but when Harry doesn’t change his mind it yells GRYFFINDOR to everyone. And if any reader was remotely surprised by this then they should be deeply ashamed of themselves.

I will say here that I really like that the hat doesn’t know who Harry is. I honestly would not have been surprised if it had greeted him by name and started raving about how amazing he was going to be. This is one of the few times where someone or something genuinely treats Harry as if he’s an ordinary student.

Anyway, Harry tells us he’s so relieved to have been sorted – and not in Slytherin – that he doesn’t notice everyone cheering. He then proceeds to tell us how everyone is cheering, so clearly he did in fact notice. Sitting down next to one of the ghosts, he finally takes a look at the High Table where the teachers are sitting. For some reason Hagrid’s there, even though he’s not a teacher – no reason why the non-teaching staff wouldn’t take their meals with the rest, of course, except there are only four non-teaching staff members at Hogwarts (because Rowling has no idea how schools are run) and Hagrid seems to be the only one who eats with them.

Harry glosses over most of the teachers to focus on Dumbles, who is sitting at the centre of the table on a ‘large gold chair‘. I never noticed the man has a fucking throne before. Good grief. His hair is also the only thing in the room shining as brightly as the ghosts, so apparently he has glow-in-the-dark hair. That’s a bit of a concern. Harry also notices Quirrell, the teacher he and Hagrid met in the pub a couple of chapters ago, who is again described as young – I always forget that he’s meant to be young, but realistically is an eleven year old going to describe any adult as young? Quirrell is also looking peculiar since he’s wearing a large purple turban. The narrative is going to point this out a lot. If Rowling had just said he was wearing a turban and left out the ‘peculiar’ it could have implied that Quirrell was our first adult character of colour, which would have been nice since I’m pretty sure we only get one in the entire series. These are not books that embrace diversity.

(Let’s also note that the turban was not mentioned when we encountered Quirrell previously, which is odd for several reasons in retrospect. Aside from it becoming his sole appearance gimmick, I have to wonder what the back of his head looked like and possibly why nobody noticed anything amiss when he was out in public.)

The last few children are sorted, including Ron, who unsurprisingly gets Gryffindor too. His character would have been far more interesting in any other house, seriously, and Hufflepuff really does seem like a prime sidekick-producing atmosphere that might have ensured he did not end up being a selfish little shithead. Disregarding this wasted opportunity, McGonagall takes the hat away and Harry remembers he’s hungry, as is every other person in the room.

Dumbles stands up, beaming and opening his arms to them and generally looking like an idiot in my opinion, welcoming them all.

“Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you!”

He sits down again to general applause and cheering, leaving Harry understandably confused and not sure whether he’s meant to laugh or not. Oh, if only this really was a joke, Harry. He asks Percy if Dumbles is a bit mad, and Percy replies that he’s a genius and the best wizard in the world and, yes, a bit mad. Very reassuring, Percy. Harry doesn’t dwell on this, though, because suddenly a fuckton of food has magically appeared in front of them.

[Mitchell adds: I personally like the ‘a few words’ line, being the kind of person who enjoys awful puns and all. Just ask Loten, she’s been trying to break me of the habit for years. Aside from that, it would also do a good job of setting up Dumbledore as the sort of character who has a sense of humour children can appreciate and is therefore on their side, which would be a good thing in a children’s book… except that in the rest of the series he doesn’t, except for his random sweets fetish, and he most definitely isn’t on their side.]

I’ll spare you the rambling food porn, but everything here is very carb and protein rich and the only vegetables in sight are carrots and peas. Hogwarts is not a place for vegetarians or anyone remotely interested in healthy eating, which is weird given how focused the narrative is on fat-shaming. I’d like to dismiss this as the start-of-term feast being a special treat, but the few times regular meals are mentioned, it’s clear that this is not a one-off experience. I have to conclude that since only a few of the eeeeevil Slytherins are ever described as even slightly overweight, this food is actually mostly some sort of created low-fat mush containing actual vitamins and minerals that has been disguised as more interesting food, because this is not how you raise children. They have all-you-can-eat two-course buffets multiple times every single day and the only exercise any of them get is walking to lessons, save for the small handful who take part in an entirely voluntary sport that is played sitting down. Without magic food half of them would have chronic health problems by the end of the first year and several of them would quite literally die from malnutrition before graduating. Also while Harry eats quite a lot and enjoys it, he once again does not react the way he should do and gorge himself sick and fill his pockets. And amongst the food on offer are mint humbugs (don’t ask) and Yorkshire pudding, both Muggle products.

For non-Brits, Yorkshire pudding is a savory batter pudding served with roast dinners: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/About/General/2010/3/8/1268072179512/Three-Yorkshire-puddings–001.jpg

As he’s eating, the ghost sitting next to him comments sadly that it looks good. I’m not sure why the ghosts are even here, this happens every year and they don’t seem to enjoy watching other people eating food they can’t have. Once again demonstrating his absolute brilliance, Harry seems surprised that ghosts don’t eat and that his new undead friend hasn’t eaten anything for five hundred years. Kindly not pointing out how stupid this is, the ghost introduces himself as Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, resident Gryffindor ghost.

Ron interrupts their conversation to say, ‘My brothers told me about you – you’re Nearly Headless Nick!’ Sir Nicholas looks annoyed and says he prefers them to use his actual name. Unfortunately for him, he’s talking to Gryffindors and they don’t give a shit about such things, so he will continue to be stuck with a nickname he dislikes no matter how often he asks them not to use it. This is a form of bullying, and as a constant victim of it because my last name unfortunately lends itself very easily to a predictable nickname, believe me when I tell you it goes from mildly annoying to unbelievably infuriating to genuinely depressing and demoralising very quickly. [Mitchell adds: my name has also been conducive to similar bullying in the past, and I concur with all of this.]

Another firstie named Seamus Finnegan also interrupts the conversation to ask how someone can be nearly headless. Looking very annoyed now, Sir Nicholas answers, ‘Like this‘ and pulls his head to one side to show that he was almost beheaded but they never finished the job, thus horrifying all the kids. Good.

We’ll never find out what happened to Sir Nicholas. Presumably he was a wizard since he’s now haunting Hogwarts, but why he was beheaded – and why he didn’t use magic to avoid it – will never be explained. Nor will we ever learn why the executioner did not remove his head completely after he died, nor why this carried over from his body to his ghost. Yes, historically they did sometimes botch executions and make a very messy job of it – I believe the record took something like thirty axe strokes to kill one victim? – but the whole point of beheading was to display the head prominently somewhere because it was the punishment for treasonous nobles who needed to serve an example afterwards. It makes even less sense next book when we learn a bit more about the founders and learn that this castle was purpose-built as a school and has never been anything else. (I’m concerned that it has dungeons, in that case, let alone lots of ghosts of murdered people.)

Pleased with their reactions – a small act of revenge for the nickname, I assume – Sir Nicholas changes the subject, saying he hopes the newbies will help them win the House Cup this year because Slytherin have won for the past six years in a row. Well, that’s the end of the book sorted; Rowling might as well have included a flashing neon sign. Sir Nicholas adds that the Slytherin ghost, the Bloody Baron, has been unbearable. Harry looks at the Slytherin table to see that the Baron, appropriately bloody as his name suggests, is sitting next to Draco, who doesn’t seem happy about it. Unlike Harry, who thinks that’s hilarious. Seamus asks why the Baron’s covered in blood, and Sir Nicholas says he’s never asked.

When everyone has eaten as much as they can, the food vanishes and is replaced with desserts that they presumably can’t eat. More sweet-fetishism, including things like exotically flavoured ice cream, jelly (Jell-O, for Americans) and doughnuts, which all need enough processing that I’m not convinced wizards would know how to produce them. I’m sure the wizarding world doesn’t have toothpaste, incidentally, so let’s add teeth problems to malnutrition and obesity. The kids continue stuffing themselves – I’d imagine at least a few of them are going to throw up the moment they try to move – and start talking about their families, and this is where we earn our trigger warning for this chapter.

Seamus goes first, mentioning offhandedly that he’s half-and-half and his Muggle father had no idea his mother was a witch until after they were married, which understandably came as a nasty shock. The kids all have a jolly good laugh about this, but one, it’s not remotely funny, and two, this exact scenario happens at least once more in the series with VERY BAD consequences. Like the creation of a psychopathic supervillain.

Ron forgets about himself for two entire seconds to ask about Neville, who tells them he was raised by his witch grandmother but his family thought he was a Muggle for ages. His great-uncle Algie kept trying to force him to do magic by repeatedly trying to murder him in horrible ways. Obviously it’s not described in those terms in the book, but that’s what it is. Great-uncle Algie pushed him off the end of Blackpool pier once and he almost drowned, amongst other things, but nothing worked until he was eight.

Incidentally, what on earth were a family of wizards doing in Blackpool? Blackpool is the quintessential tacky Muggle tourist seaside resort. Every cliché you can think of – low-budget fairgrounds, donkey rides, Kiss Me Quick hats, penny arcades, shops selling sticks of rock and candy floss – is Blackpool. I really don’t see any wizards, particularly an old pureblood family as Neville’s will eventually be revealed to be, going on holiday there. It also has three piers; no idea which one Neville is referring to here.

Anyway, when Neville was eight dear old Great-uncle Algie came to their house for tea and was casually hanging him out of “an upstairs window” by his ankles, as you do, when Great-aunt Enid offered him a cake and he let go, thus dropping his nephew on his head from a great enough height to kill him. He wasn’t using magic to hold him because this was clearly planned and is a serious attempt to plausibly ‘accidentally’ kill the boy. Neville bounced, which is apparently lucky, although given that he would still have landed on his head and broken his neck I don’t see how that saved him, and his family all rejoiced and hopefully stopped trying to kill him. They were also really pleased when he got his Hogwarts letter because nobody thought he was ‘magic enough’ to come, though I bet they weren’t as pleased as Neville was to be getting the fuck away from them.

Nobody comments on this, and the subject changes in the following paragraph. It’s treated as so completely normal that it’s not even worth reacting to. And nobody ever will comment on it. Pay attention, everyone, this is the first of many, many instances where it’s clear that Neville would have made a much more interesting protagonist. The narrative will constantly treat Harry’s upbringing as abuse even though the worst thing that has happened to him to date is being ignored, yet Neville’s relatives repeatedly physically abusing and trying to kill him is unremarkable and perfectly fine. The worst part is that even Neville himself treats it as perfectly fine and he too will never display any signs of being abused, nor will he ever show realistic reactions to anything and will end up being scared of all the wrong things given the way he was raised.


At this point Mitchell and I abandoned our first attempt to spork this chapter and changed the subject to something else, because it was getting too depressing; we’d both forgotten just how bad this part was.

Why is an adult writing books for children telling them that abuse and bullying is either funny or normal and not to be commented on? Why did so many other adults let this be published without questioning it or toning it down?

The answer, at least at this point in the series, is that the horrible violence against children is being phrased in slapstick, cartoonish terms. A child being partially turned into a pig is funny. A child being thrown out of a window and bouncing down the garden is funny.

This works in Roald Dahl’s books, which were clearly the inspiration for a lot of this, because those books take place completely within a bizarre alternate reality where girls like Matilda can have psychic powers, men like Willy Wonka can build magic factories that make sweets that will kill and mutilate children in nasty ways, boys like James can travel around the world on flying fruit with a load of giant talking bugs and boys like George can make magic potions from ordinary household items. (Yes, I like his books.)

[Mitchell adds: Let’s have a brief digression about Roald Dahl, because I think we probably need to. I quite liked his books as a child as well and still remember them fondly, though neither of us have reread them at all recently so that memory is a bit hazy. I suspect that if we returned to them now we’d find a great deal of incredibly problematic content that we’d previously overlooked.  I can think of a few examples in general terms: e.g. transphobia in the portrayal of Agatha Trunchbull in MatildaThe Witches being all about an evil cabal of women preying on children; the Oompa Loompas’ Happiness in Slavery combined with the original version of that book’s having had them as a lost African tribe rather than a fantasy race; I’m sure I could think of many more.  Yet despite all that, it still feels different to me than the Potter books do; less mean-spirited, somehow, and the overall silliness quotient is higher so it never quite seems the reader is meant to take things seriously. Maybe it’s just that he was better able to keep things consistently cartoonish, and his caricature was obviously intentional?]

In my opinion it doesn’t work in Harry Potter, because the whole point of the Potterverse is that it takes place within our own world. The magic system can somehow do bizarre things that break all the natural laws of our universe, and this is never explained, but these books are still set on our planet and in our society. What happened to poor Dudley isn’t possible, but even if you overlook that as just a silly magic trick and ignore the fact that it’s still an adult doing something scary and painful and illegal to a child that the child cannot possibly avoid, there are no circumstances where anyone can justify throwing an eight year old boy out of a window in our world. You can’t use ‘it’s fantasy’ as an excuse if it’s not a fantasy world.

And it gets much worse later. The abuse in later books stops being cartoony and fantasy and becomes just plain brutal. But it’s still treated as funny and the myriad victims are still not allowed to object. J K Rowling’s attitude towards bullying is by far my biggest issue with her books and you’d better believe we’re going to be discussing this many, many times over the course of the series, assuming we actually make it that far, because it’s one of the worst messages any author can possibly send to young readers.

All right, the soapbox is being put away again, for now.


Back in Hogwarts School of Assault and Battery, Percy is talking to Hermione about lessons, because apparently Hermione isn’t allowed to join in the conversation with the other first years. Given that she’s clearly very enthusiastic about discussing lessons, I suspect she tried to talk to the others and was rebuffed so started talking to the only older student we’ve met so far who’s not an arsehole. They’re talking about Transfiguration, which is the art of turning something into something else.

Let me just say right now that this is an entirely pointless subject that could be covered in five lessons. Lesson one, turning an inanimate object into another inanimate object. Lesson two, turning an inanimate object into a living thing – not actually possible. Lesson three, turning a living thing into an inanimate object – very cruel, do not do it. Lesson four, turning a living thing into another living thing – almost always a very bad idea, do not do it. Lesson five, learning to shapeshift – which for some reason almost nobody ever does.

The fanfic I mentioned in the previous post, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, had a very good take on Transfiguration. It’s either chapter 12 or chapter 15, I think, I forget and I’m honestly too lazy to look for you. Sorry, not sorry. As a canon subject, it’s a complete waste of time, but more on that later.

Harry’s in a food coma by now, understandably, and sleepily looks back at the staff table. Hagrid’s getting drunk, McGonagall and Dumbles are talking, and Quirrell and his turban are talking to another teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose and sallow skin.

YAY!
(Though only a very small yay. I had the BEST .gif for this moment, and now I can’t find it.)

Ahem.

As Harry looks at this teacher and Quirrell, he gets a sharp, hot pain in his pony-scar. Percy is a responsible prefect and a nice person and notices that he’s in pain, but Harry says it’s nothing, too busy thinking about how he’s sure this new teacher doesn’t like him. This is unrelated to the pain, you understand, he just thinks the teacher dislikes him based on… well, nothing. I mean, he turns out to be right, because he’s the hero and heroes are never allowed to be wrong about anything, but there’s no actual evidence here.

He asks Percy who the teacher talking to Quirrell is.

‘Oh, you know Quirrell already, do you? No wonder he’s looking so nervous, that’s Professor Snape. He teaches Potions, but he doesn’t want  to – everyone knows he’s after Quirrell’s job. Knows an awful lot about the Dark Arts, Snape.’

Yes. How unreasonable for a Dark Arts expert to want a job teaching about the Dark Arts. (All right, all right, I promise to at least try to be relatively unbiased.) Also, this doesn’t explain why Quirrell would be nervous talking to someone who wants his job, unless he thinks there’s grounds for Snape to actually get the job. Anyway, this is very strongly telegraphing SNAPE IS A BAD GUY to the readers. Honestly, the repeated fakeouts with Snape throughout the series just seem like Rowling hadn’t decided which ending she was going to use and was trying to write both until she made her mind up. [Mitchell adds: at this point I think she might not have come up with the twist about Quirrell yet; the end reveal still works if we assume Harry is an unreliable narrator and this is all filtered through him, but I’m not at all sure it does otherwise, and Rowling never encourages the reader to question Harry’s perspective.]

Finally everyone’s done eating and all the leftover food vanishes. It must be really late by now and all the kids are practically unconscious, so Dumbles decides this is the absolute best time to read out the start-of-term notices. No, you idiot, this should be done tomorrow morning when the Heads of House are giving out timetables and so on.

  • The forest in the grounds is forbidden to all students, first of all. So why is it not fenced off? There is literally nothing to stop kids wandering in or unspecified things wandering out.
  • Mr Filch the caretaker says that no magic is to be used in the corridors between classes. We’ll be talking about Filch later.
  • Quidditch trials will be held next week and anyone interested should contact Madam Hooch. He doesn’t mention this is closed to first years, but as we’ll see later that hardly matters.
  • ‘And finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death.’

Misplaced comma aside, Harry laughs at this but almost nobody else does. That’s a bad sign, Harry. Imminent death is not a joke in this building. This does work as a culture-shock moment, though, Harry has the same reaction as the readers but that’s not the ‘normal’ reaction for this place where the children seem to accept in all seriousness that parts of their school will kill them. Inevitably, Our Hero is going to be visiting the corridor later, since just like the forest full of monsters it is totally unprotected by any kind of barrier and they can just waltz in. The real question is why he and his minions are the only children who do so.

Percy does find it a bit odd that Dumbles didn’t give them a reason for avoiding the corridor. Er, Percy, he did give a reason – because you’ll die if you go there. That’s a good reason.

Dumbles then announces that they’re going to sing the school song before bed. This is also not a British tradition. I have never encountered a school with its own song, although a lot of the more elite schools tend to be religious and will make you sing hymns occasionally so maybe this is the equivalent. In any case, it’s a very obvious bit of padding to stretch out the end of the chapter, since it will thankfully never appear again. He projects the words in the air by magic and tells everyone to pick whatever tune they like. I’m getting a headache just thinking about the resulting cacophony, and every single member of the faculty would eat broken glass before joining in with this stupid shit.

Already well on the way to full arsehole status, the Weasley twins choose the slowest funeral march they can, because it’s not like everyone wants to get the fuck out of there and go to bed. The question of how two pureblood wizard boys know any funeral marches, ones recognisable to Muggle-raised Harry, is not explained, naturally. We will see one wizard funeral later in the series and I don’t remember any music, but I wasn’t really paying attention.

At long last the children are allowed to go to bed, and Percy leads all the firsties off towards their dormitory. No seriously, who is the other Gryffindor prefect? We will learn eventually that there are always two, a boy and a girl. Hermione is still the only female student we’ve seen apart from some random names at the sorting.

Harry is practically catatonic at this point and can barely walk, he’s so tired, which is unfortunate given how many staircases they have to climb since the Gryffindor dormitories and common room are in one of the castle towers. He barely notices when they walk past paintings who are whispering to each other and pointing at the children (why they would care is also never explained; I really hope they are not also reacting to Harry) or when Percy twice leads them through doors hidden behind sliding panels and hanging tapestries.

Okay. Castles should have secret passages. My school was housed in a stately home, and that had some hidden corridors. They’re awesome. But they’re not for everyday use! They were out of bounds to students completely (not that that ever stopped us, of course) and they never led to anywhere we actually needed to use. These kids have to learn their way around a huge castle, which is going to be difficult enough without hiding some of the doors they need to take.

Reaching the top of yet more stairs, they find a lot of walking sticks floating in mid air, some of which are promptly thrown at Percy. He tells us this is Peeves, a poltergeist, and threatens to get the Bloody Baron; Peeves becomes visible, mercifully looking nothing like the horrific chapter art at the beginning of this post, and laughs at them. Percy threatens him again and he flies off laughing, dropping the walking sticks on Neville’s head. I have no idea where he got the walking sticks, but honestly there’s no actual reason for Peeves to exist except that the sadist school can’t be bothered to get rid of the ghost who vandalises things and occasionally injures passing children. On the one hand it’s nice to see some non-plot-relevant worldbuilding details in the background, but on the other hand this is stupid, and also Peeves features pretty heavily throughout the series – more so than a few actual plot characters. I wonder if he was a ghost plot (no pun intended) who Rowling originally intended to have some sort of purpose later on.

Finally they reach a portrait of a fat woman in a pink dress. Despite getting more dialogue throughout the series than some of the main characters, she will never get a name. She is just the Fat Lady. Though encouragingly she’s not compared to any wildlife. She demands a password and Percy replies with, ‘Caput draconis.’ I have no idea why the password is ‘dragon’s head’, or indeed why there is a password at all. Who the fuck cares if the kids get into each other’s common rooms? It can’t really be a security thing, since their own housemates could rob them if that was going to be an issue and in a normal universe with normal children they would have friends in other houses and would probably give them the passwords so they could hang out in the evenings. Also they could just use a spell that knows who’s in each house, it’s not exactly difficult for someone to hide around the corner and listen to a Gryffindor saying the password. It’s even stupider once you learn in later books that not all the houses have passwords guarding their rooms anyway. I suppose it’s to create some sort of secret inclusive club atmosphere – you are special kids, you get to know the secret code – but really, it’s just their bedrooms, who cares.

The portrait swings aside to show a hole in the wall. Not a doorway, just a hole, and Neville needs a leg up to get in. Good job that the starved, neglected, small and skinny Harry is able to reach it just fine though, eh? The common room itself is just a room full of armchairs, and the girls are sent up one staircase to their dormitory while the boys go up another. There are five beds in Harry’s dormitory, so five first-year boys, though we’ve only met four. Sorry Dean, you don’t get to be a character, you weren’t even mentioned during the sorting. The boys are all far too exhausted to talk and just collapse into bed; Ron mumbles about how great the food is, since clearly that’s the most important thing that’s happened today, and mentions that Scabbers is chewing his sheets for some reason – this is the first time Scabbers has been mentioned since he was violently hurled into a window on the train, by the way; apparently he survived just fine – before Harry passes out.

He has a nightmare, almost inevitably. He’s wearing Quirrell’s turban and it’s talking to him, telling him it’s his destiny to transfer to Slytherin. Harry says no and the turban tightens painfully on his head, and Draco shows up to laugh at him, then turns into Snape, who starts laughing like Voldy in the flashbacks that Harry was way too young to have, and there’s a flash of green light that wakes him up. He then goes back to sleep instantly, because that’s absolutely what happens after nightmares, and he doesn’t remember the dream at all the next morning. End of chapter.

If he doesn’t remember it, don’t include it.

As dream sequences go this one actually sort of works; it could be a real dream, which most authors never manage. And it seems interesting on first readthrough. But once you know how the book ends, you realise Rowling pretty much just dumped her entire plot into this one paragraph. That’s not foreshadowing, that’s just stupid. But oh well, we’re finally at magic school and next chapter we can start learning some magic!

…if only. At least I get to fangirl.

[Mitchell adds: and I shall make no attempt in the slightest to curtail such fangirling. We need a relief from all of the awfulness in this chapter, and I’ve long since accepted that Severus Snape is a third party in our relationship anyway.]


What would I change about this chapter? There are two choices. Option one is to scrap the sorting – given how many of Harry’s year we ever actually see onscreen you could just make the school a bit smaller and put them all in one class, honestly, but if you do need to divide them up for administration purposes then draw lots or split them alphabetically or something. In this version the houses aren’t relevant to anything and are barely mentioned ever again. You’d lose the House Cup and have to create a team system for Quidditch, but really, most people wouldn’t care and it’s never a good idea to run a school encouraging the children to fight with one another over shiny things. This would also stop me screaming in rage at the end of the book, but more on that another time.

Option two is to keep the sorting, magic hat and all, but change the reasoning. Leave it completely vague as to what the hat is looking for. Either explain it in a later book, or just leave it a mystery and let various characters suggest theories over the course of the story. Stop having everyone insist that Slytherin is evil. All four houses are made up of normal children, and all the children we have met so far are spread out over the four instead of putting Draco and his bodyguards in Slytherin, everyone else in Gryffindor and ignoring the other two. (And add some more female students, don’t just list female names.) This option still doesn’t make too much sense, but it’s more fun.

Strip out the terrible backstories.

The rest only needs minor tweaks – don’t act like jerks to Sir Nicholas, eat slightly more sensible food, get rid of the song, go to bed earlier and leave all the administration until tomorrow. Even Peeves can stay, I suppose, though if he’s going to be chapter art he needs to show up earlier in the chapter. The dream sequence is well written, so I’m hesitant to get rid of it completely, but once you know the ending it’s incredibly heavy-handed. Maybe merge it into an unrelated dream so it’s less obvious – Harry’s exhausted and overexcited and has massively overindulged with very rich food he’s not used to eating, all his dreams are going to be pretty weird.

That’s a wrap for this time. Next time, more fangirling, I imagine.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2015 in loten, mitchell

 

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The Silkworm: Part Two

The next HP post will be up soon, folks, it’s just being tweaked a bit.

I’m informed in the comments that this book is a significant improvement over The Cuckoo’s Calling. I certainly hope so, because so far it really isn’t, and it’s about to get worse.


Chapter Five opens inside Strike’s head again, which is my least favourite place in the series right now, and this post would have been up much sooner had I not made the mistake last time of glancing at this chapter and deciding that I couldn’t face it. We start with some pointless rambling about football for some reason – Strike supports Arsenal, because his uncle supported Arsenal, and I couldn’t care less – and transition very clunkily (via some whining that despite his nap during business hours he’s still exhausted but refusing to go to sleep because I don’t know, apparently he’s five years old) back to the edges of the plot: Robin somehow managed to track down Publisher Fisher, who insists on meeting Strike face to face tomorrow morning, and Strike doesn’t want to.

He’s annoyed at himself for giving in to ‘temper‘ because of exhaustion and kicking William Baker out earlier, when the man could have provided more work for him. Okay, Strike, but that wasn’t temper. That was actually a very good reaction to some nasty sexist assholery that was upsetting your receptionist/business partner/whatever. Please don’t spoil it by telling yourself that you weren’t being reasonable and actually what he was saying was fine. Please. He’s also annoyed at himself for taking Leonora Quine on as a client, because more work means he has less free time and it’s ‘quixotic and irresponsible‘ of him to… do his job. In the same paragraph he’s complaining about losing work and about gaining work. You know, Strike, you’re coming close to being as irritating as Harry right now. Be careful.

Nope, he really has turned into Harry. He goes back to wondering why Fisher wants to meet with him instead of just giving him the address of this writer’s retreat, and decides that it’s obviously because Fisher thinks he’s awesome, because he’s still famous for the Lula Landry case from last book. Sigh.

Under the note about his meeting with Fisher, Robin has pointedly written the date and time of her latest attempt to get him to meet Matthew. Cue two pages of awfulness as Strike tells himself that he’s super grateful for Matthew’s existence (and for Robin’s shiny engagement ring), because ‘he imposed a useful barrier between Strike and a girl who might otherwise disturb his equilibrium.‘ He goes on to explain to the readers that he has ‘warm feelings‘ for Robin and thinks she’s very good looking and that her engagement is blocking a persistent draft that would otherwise cause him discomfort. You see, he considers himself to be ‘in recovery’ after his last relationship which was so awful and full of lies, and he wants to stay single because bitches be crazy and you can’t trust women. Okay, I’m paraphrasing a little, but seriously, he spends an entire page rambling about how he wants to avoid relationships and the only way he can possibly achieve that is by making sure he only spends time with a woman who already belongs to someone because otherwise Robin might lure him to his doom with her evil feminine wiles.

We never actually saw his ex-fiancée Charlotte in the previous book, but we were told that she grew hysterical and assaulted him when he ended the relationship. He did this, we eventually learn, because she got pregnant and had an abortion and he didn’t believe the child was his, though we were never told why he thought that or whether there was any attempt to discuss things. She became engaged to someone else and attempted numerous times to let him know but he spent most of the book refusing to reply to or even acknowledge her messages despite not knowing what she wanted to tell him. Basically the book insisted repeatedly that she was the Whore of Babylon but refused to actually show her onscreen in case the readers would realise that she wasn’t.

Anyway, Strike is vaguely worried that once Robin and Matthew get married her husband/owner will use his status to make Robin leave her job, but since Robin hasn’t mentioned a wedding date yet Strike’s sure that’s nothing to worry about at the moment, so he’ll still have her around to look at and occasionally blame for tempting him or whatever it is he’s blathering about. With that settled, he changes the subject to describe to us that he’s watching the news, in excruciating detail, before whining a bit more about how small his flat is and then going to sleep.


Thankfully Chapter Six takes us back to the plot, as Strike goes to meet Fisher at the publishing house and we get some more nice descriptions of parts of London – Exmouth Market this time, if that means anything to anyone reading this. Fisher is a slight, ‘dandyish‘ man in his thirties with long wavy hair and a bit of frill on his shirt cuffs, so he’s probably supposed to be gay, but unlike last book he’s not mincing or lisping so let’s hope Rowling’s learned not to do that. They talk a bit about Strike’s name since Fisher actually knows Cormoran is the giant from Cornish myth, before Fisher tries to guess who’s hired Strike and names two men, Daniel Chard or Michael Fancourt. The latter is apparently a (fictional) famous author, but Strike doesn’t comment on the former.

Strike says nope, it’s Owen Quine’s wife, which confuses Fisher. He’s further confused to learn that Owen’s disappeared, he had no idea. Strike asks about the writer’s retreat and Fisher says Owen can’t possibly be there, they’d never let him in because he’s a ‘born shit-stirrer‘ and the woman who runs the place hates him for giving her first novel a bad review once. He then proves it by phoning the place and putting Strike on speaker to listen in as the woman in question says nope, no sign of him and he’ll not be welcome if he ever does show up.

For once being reasonable, Strike asks why on earth Fisher didn’t just tell Leonora that when she phoned him. Cue astonishment from Fisher, who apparently didn’t even bother finding out what the poor woman wanted before brushing her off and refusing to take her calls; he thought Owen was making her call him, to nag him to publish his latest book. (It’s called Bombyx Mori, which explains our title, that’s the scientific name for the silk moth and thus the silkworm. It’s also apparently a male aphrodisiac drug, which amuses me far more than it should. And it’s a bloody stupid name for a book, Owen must be a terrible writer.)

Strike asks how long Fisher’s been Owen’s publisher. As it turns out, he hasn’t. He’s never published Owen’s work, but he did tell Agent Liz at a party that he’d be willing to look at the next book since Owen’s apparently fairly hot stuff at the moment. Agent Liz gave him a copy, before reading it herself, and called him in a panic a few hours later telling him not to read it – too late, naturally.

(I’m making this sound a lot smoother than it is. Strike is annoyed with himself for not questioning Leonora properly, he’s spending this interview not knowing what the fuck is going on and asking stupid questions, and the readers are getting this information in little scraps over several pages.)

When Strike eventually asks the logical question of what the book is about, Fisher says he’s been advised by top-end lawyers not to say anything about it. Strike asks who hired the lawyers, was it Chard or Fancourt, and since Fisher apparently has all the guile of a spring lamb he promptly starts talking and says it’s just Chard – CEO of Roper Chard, the publishers who actually handle Owen’s books – but Fancourt’s the one Owen should really be worrying about, an evil bastard who never forgets a grudge. He goes on to helpfully tell us that Owen’s an arrogant, deluded bastard – apparently Fisher’s world is just full of bastards – before cutting himself off midsentence in a Hagrid-esque ‘I shouldn’t be telling you this’ moment and ending by saying that maybe Owen’s realised what an idiot he’s been and that’s why he’s done a runner.

Strike asks if the book is libellous and Fisher waffles about how that’s a grey area (no, it really isn’t) but that Owen’s ‘done over‘ quite a few people in a very clever way that reminds him a bit of Fancourt’s early books, and drops a few references Strike doesn’t get, before saying he’s surprised Leonora didn’t tell Strike any of this since he’s sure Owen’s the type to lecture his family every mealtime about what he’s been doing.. Strike asks why Fisher thought Chard or Fancourt would hire a private detective if he didn’t know Owen was missing and Fisher is vague, saying he doesn’t know, maybe it was the next step after the lawyers, maybe they wanted some dirt on Owen, he only agreed to meet Strike because he wanted to know what was going on.

The meeting ends with Fisher finally recognising Strike’s name as ‘the Lula Landry guy‘ (no seriously Rowling, stop it. Law enforcement are never named when cases are solved. Literally nobody not directly connected with the case knows Strike was involved. For fuck’s sake.) and Strike nobly resisting the urge to sit down and wallow in his celebrity status for an hour or two. Dude, he recognised your name, that doesn’t mean he’s an undying fan.

That was extremely boring. I remember that from the first book, the initial interviews and information gathering and so on were all very dry and very dull and involved a lot of names that it was hard to keep straight until later on when the readers had actually met most of them.


On to Chapter Seven, and Strike phones Leonora to let her know what’s going on. The narrative tries very hard over the next couple of pages to make us hate the woman. Her poor grammar is worse than it was previously, she ends almost every sentence by shouting at her daughter Orlando, she constantly interrupts Strike and snaps at his questions, and is finally described as talking ‘pettishly’, which I was surprised to learn was even a word. The gist of the conversation is that yes, she still wants Strike to look for her husband (that was the point, Strike, you weren’t meeting the publisher for a cozy chat, you were meant to be finding Owen and you didn’t, you moron) and Agent Liz will probably know where he is, and she doesn’t want the police involved because she called them once after Owen had been gone for a week, they found him ‘at his lady friend’s‘ and weren’t happy with Leonora because apparently she should have just psychically known that and Owen will be angry if she does that again.

Yeah, sorry, Rowling, I refuse to hate a woman who’s already being shat on by pretty much every character in the book when all she’s done is ask for help finding her husband. Frankly, I hope it turns out that she’s the one who murdered him, and that she makes a clean getaway.

She hangs up midsentence while yelling at her daughter again, and Strike isn’t sure if it was deliberate or not. Naturally, he doesn’t bother trying to call back to find out. He tells Robin to find a photo of Owen online and to call Agent Liz to set up an appointment, and asks her to look up ‘bombyx mori’ and tell him what it means. I’m pretty sure half the point of last book was that Robin started out as a receptionist from a temp agency and became Strike’s partner helping to do shit and solve stuff, but she’s been relegated to office girly again apparently and sadly doesn’t respond with asking why he can’t spare ten seconds to Google it.

Robin actually gets a point of view in the next scene, though this turns out to be solely because another client’s there, a woman getting divorced who wanted Strike to find out where the soon to be ex husband was hiding his money, and Robin’s required to be catty and mentally snipe at her looks and choice of perfume and unnecessary bitchy things of that nature. Once this woman leaves – this paragraph was totally unnecessary, she wasn’t even given a name and is clearly not going to feature again – Robin gives Strike a photo of Owen.

He’s fat. Imagine my surprise. And he’s blond. Again, imagine my surprise. We’re also told he has different coloured eyes without the narrative telling us what colours, which is just pointless; let’s assume one blue and one brown, since I believe that’s the most common form of heterochromia. And Strike’s reaction on seeing his photograph is to say “Jesus Christ almighty“, which was hardly necessary. He asks Robin to make some copies of the photo to pass around and to start ringing hotels. Robin says Agent Liz actually called her before she could call, Fisher told her about the earlier meeting, and she wants to meet Strike tomorrow; she’s apparently very bossy. Fuck off, book, you’ve been negative about every single woman so far except Robin herself and I’m getting really tired of it.

Robin goes on to say that Bombyx mori is the silkworm – no, Robin, I said this earlier, it’s the silk moth; this is not how you do Meaningful Titles, Rowlingand then tells us all how they actually make silk from silkworms. By boiling the larvae alive, because the silk comes from the cocoons and if you kill the larvae that way they won’t damage them. This is completely true. See, Rowling, you are capable of researching things sometimes. Though how you managed to research that without realising that the Latin name refers to the moth and not the worm, I don’t know. (I’m going to call this The Baby Silk Moth from now on.) She asks why Strike wanted to know, since he apparently hasn’t bothered telling her anything that’s happened so far, and he says he was trying to work out why Owen called his book that and is still none the wiser. Me neither, frankly, but I’m sure it’ll be very Meaningful and Symbolic. I’m still holding out for a reference to the aphrodisiac drug, personally.

That’s the end of Robin’s point of view. We jump back to Strike without a scene break and get a long and tedious description of him going to the supermarket for groceries in the rain and stopping at a second hand bookshop to try and find one of Owen’s books. He finds one, and it’s crap, and he gives up fifty pages in and goes to sleep. Sounds like a good idea to me, Strike, but sadly this isn’t the end of the chapter or even the end of the scene. The transitions in this book are really clumsy.

It’s still raining when he wakes up, and he sees on the news that Cornwall’s been hit by bad floods. In a frankly out of character moment of concern, he calls his aunt and uncle, who live there (I don’t believe they were mentioned at all last book, though we met a half-sister) and then reverts back to his usual arsehole self by getting annoyed that his aunt actually wants to, you know, talk to him.

The scene ends and we jump back to Robin’s point of view so she can comment that Strike’s wearing a suit and wonder to herself whether he’s meeting the nameless almost-divorced woman from a few pages ago after seeing Agent Liz. Oh, shut up. She saw the news too, but because she’s a girl she ignored the floods and wants to talk to Strike about Prince William and Kate Middleton getting engaged. Shut up. Strike turns sarcastic and grouchy and generally acts like an arse because ew, girly things, and reflects on his ex-fiancée being engaged again and how he’s totally not anticipating it ending horribly. Seriously, shut up.

Robin tells Strike his half-sister Lucy called to remind him about his birthday dinner at her place and ask if he was bringing a plus-one, then asks when Strike’s birthday actually is. He’s reluctant to tell her, but eventually does so, and after a pause realises there’s more to being a social human than that and asks when hers is – I mean, they’ve only known each other eight months, why would this topic have come up before? – and it turns out he’s missed it. Whew, eh?

This is all a very clumsy way of leading up to Strike learning that Robin and Matthew have in fact set a date for their wedding, and Robin gives him the invitation despite not having checked with Matthew that it’s okay. Yes, she does get to invite who she wants, but it’s his wedding too and he deserves some input. It’s the eighth of January, which is apparently seven weeks away, meaning we get to suffer through Christmas in this book. Yay.

Strike’s brain has flatlined on learning this and it takes him a moment to remember what’s going on, when he asks how the hotel search is going; unsurprisingly Robin hasn’t found Owen yet. Since I think she’s only had an hour or so at the end of the last working day to start phoning around, I’m not surprised, particularly since the man could be anywhere in Britain. Leonora said he stayed at a Hilton once. Apparently this is enough for Strike to have Robin phoning around Hilton branches in the belief that this will somehow work. According to Google they have 70 or so in the UK, so yeah, good fucking luck.

Robin asks oh so casually what he’s up to after he meets Liz, and he says he’s going to be pretending he wants to buy a flat because someone’s soon to be ex husband is trying to raise some capital and move it offshore. I don’t care, book. If you want me to care, give the woman a name and stop sniping at her. He makes a point of shoving the wedding invitation into his coat pocket without opening it, and the chapter mercifully ends.

I’m stopping here. I suspect next chapter is going to involve a lot of wedding angst and I’m really not in the mood for it. Are you lot sure this ends up better than Cuckoo?

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2015 in loten

 

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Signal Boost: Dude Social Fallacies

Read this. Read this now.

http://spcsnaptags.tumblr.com/post/115253287239/dude-social-fallacies

I recognise so many of these; they’re bloody everywhere. How’s this – if you catch someone (likely a cishet man, but I’m sure it’s not completely exclusive to them) you know engaging in these behaviours or this kind of thinking, encourage them to read this article and stop interacting with people they view as potential sex partners until they’ve thoroughly digested it.

(via Captain Awkward)

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2015 in mitchell

 

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