Cormoran Strike 1

As I mentioned in my January Reading post, I read J.K. Rowling’s (writing as Robert Galbraith) first Cormoran Strike novel The Cuckoo’s Calling in 2013. I’d quite liked it, but never got around to reading any sequels. This year, I decided to finish up some of my unfinished series and so, to start off, I reread The Cuckoo’s Calling and then went on to read The Silkworm.

I find the character Cormoran Strike very intriguing. There’s his complicated private life with his estranged rock star father, his dead groupie mother, the aunt and uncle who brought him and his sister up – this already has a lot of potential for interesting storytelling. In addition, he also has half-brothers (and maybe sisters, I’m not sure) to contend with (or ignore) and a tempestuous relationship with his ex-girlfriend, with whom he has, it appears, finally broken up. They had a strange co-dependent dysfunctional relationship and it will be interesting to see if this will surface again in later books of the series. There’s also the fact that one of his legs has been amputated and how he deals with this disability – mostly by ignoring any issues with the leg until it becomes so bad that he has to be hospitalized.

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The plotline that Cormoran is the son of this famous rock star but doesn’t want to capitalize on it is well done. I can imagine that it is hard for the children of famous people to build their own independent identity. I can’t help but think that maybe the author has her own children in mind, who probably find it hard sometimes to have such a famous and controversial figure as their mother. Anyway, I like how Cormoran keeps his independence and insists on paying back a loan he got from his father, who pressured him to pay it back although he’s rolling in money. It’ll also be interesting to see if the father ever makes a more direct appearance in the series. Such potential for later novels are part of what make series so addictive to me (if they are well written – if I don’t like a novel, for whatever reason, no potential will entice me to keep following the series).

Robin Ellacott, Cormoran’s partner in his struggling private investigator business, is also a well-rounded, complex character who has a background that is only slowly and tantalizingly being revealed. Will she manage the jealousy of her fiancé, who doesn’t want her to continue working for Cormoran? Why did she break off her university degree in psychology?

In the first novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robin joins Cormoran as a temporary secretary for a week, but stays on longer at reduced pay because she finds the job so interesting, much more than the higher-paying HR job she is supposed to take up. Cormoran has just broken up with his girlfriend and moved into his small office because he is broke and can’t afford a flat. He tries to hide this situation from Robin, and she tactfully pretends not to notice. The main case of the novel is brought to him by the brother of an old deceased school friend. It’s about proving that the death of an adopted sister, Lulu, a well-known model, was not a suicide, but murder. So Cormoran, with support from Robin, investigates Lulu’s last day, all the people she had contact with, her family and friends. Another person is killed, raising the stakes.

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In the second novel in the series, The Silkworm, takes place in the publishing world. Cormoran is hired to find a missing novelist, who disappeared after his slanderous and brutal murder novel was leaked to a couple of publishers, agents and others connected with the publishing world. During the investigation, the relationship between Cormoran and Robin is strained because Robin feels unappreciated by Cormoran and she is also under pressure by her fiancé, who doesn’t like Cormoran (he’s still jealous) and who still wants her to give up the job.

I liked how the mysteries played out in both the novels. I found the supporting characters well drawn and enjoyed the thrilling bits. Am looking forward to reading the next three books.

I am aware that J.K. Rowling is criticized because of some of her statements about transgender issues. I know that some readers have decided not to read her books any longer, but I researched the controversy and discovered that on some points I agree with Rowling while on others I agree with her critics. Therefore, I’m going to continue reading Rowling and will make up my own mind about her work. I’ve always very much enjoyed the Harry Potter books, although there’s lots of things one can argue about in them (that’s half the fun in the case of the Potter books). I’ll have to see how the Cormoran Strike series plays out, but I didn’t find anything heinous in the first two books.

I think that deciding not to read an author because of their opinions is a difficult decision anyhow and needs to be individually determined by each reader. Where do you draw the line? What about classics? They often contain ideas or judgements that were either already obnoxious in their times or later became so. But they also contain brilliant stuff. I think reading about things that I don’t agree with helps me to find my own stance on issues and hones critical thinking skills about what is worth reading and what isn’t. I’m sure there are also cases where the decision is pretty clear-cut, but I don’t think that is the case with Rowling. In any case, I prefer to decide for myself and not rely on others’ judgements.

Keep safe, world.

January Reading

As I was on vacation for the first two weeks of January, I had lots of time for reading. Here’s what I read:

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji
I didn’t manage to read the 100 pages for January, but I read the “Introduction” (which was very helpful for understanding the text itself) and the first chapter. I’ll catch up in February. I already think I’m going to enjoy it.

Poetry:

  • Janet E. Gardner (ed.), Literature: A Portable Anthology. 4th Edition
    I finished reading the poetry section of this anthology. An excellent diverse selection that I liked a lot.
  • Patrick Crotty (ed.), The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry
    I started this anthology last year and am continuing it for my daily poetry reading. It’s great and I’m now starting the last quarter of the book.

Short Stories:

  • Jay Rubin (ed.), The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories
  • Gardner Dozois (ed.), The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection and The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Second Annual Collection
    I finished the first two anthologies in January (started on them last year). As I had a lot of time, I also read the whole second one of Dozois’ annual collections in January. As usual with anthologies, I liked some stories and hated others (this is true for both the sci-fi anthologies and the Japanese short stories). One of the best short stories in the Second Annual Collection was Octavia E. Butler’s “Bloodchild”. I have read all of Butler’s work and love it – her sci-fi always focusses on character development which is not the case with a lot of sci-fi and it also explores knotty ethical questions.

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Non-Fiction:

Patrick Conty, The Genesis and Geometry of the Labyrinth: Architecture, Hidden Language, Myths, and Rituals
This book has been sitting on my shelves unread since 2007. It’s a fascinating and weird exploration of how labyrinth, mazes, and knots can be interpreted to explain reality and even complex theories like quantum mechanics and string theory. It was a bit beyond me in places, I must admit. It is a keeper, though, and I am sure to revisit it (maybe I will understand it better on re-reading). It has lots of graphics and photos of paintings and other artwork, so a very nice edition. I picked it up while on a business trip in Palo Alto.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments
This was the selection of the “Booknaturalists” on Intragram. I quite liked it, but it was a kind of memoir that explored what the various fauna and flora meant to the author. I expected more details about the natural world and was therefore a bit disappointed.

Novels:

  • Chantal Spitz, Island of Shattered Dreams
    The January selection of the Goodreads “Read Around the World” group. It’s set in French Polynesia.
  • Susanna Clarke, Piranesi
    One of the books I wanted to read last year in December. It features a kind of maze that inspired me to read the book about labyrinths by Conty.
  • Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine
    The first of Erdrich’s books that I want to read this year.
  • Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and A Monstrous Regiment of Women
    These are the first two books of King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. I love the series but have some unread titles on my shelves that I want to get to. And there are lots of new installments that I don’t own yet. I want to catch up on the series. These two were re-reads.
  • J.K. Rowling (alias Robert Galbraith), The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm
    I’d read The Cuckoo’s Calling in 2013 and quite liked it but never continued the series. I enjoyed The Silkworm, too and want to continue on with the series.

I had a very prolific reading month and I enjoyed all of the books I read. I even managed to read a book that’s been on my TBR for years. I’m planning to write more detailed reports on most of the books I read, so I’m keeping the list short without greater details.