The Silkworm: Writing about writing

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith J.K. RowlingThe Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

The second novel in Robert Galbraith’s crime series is, in large part, a musing on the nature of writing itself. This is all the more poignant when you consider the Galbraith is none other than the (far less obscure) J.K. Rowling herself. The eponymous silkworm was said to be boiled alive to extract its precious silk threads in tact; a metaphor for the writer, it seems, who has to “go through the agonies to get at the good stuff.” Sound gruesome? That’s not even the half of it.

The Silkworm sees the return of Detective Cormoran Strike and his secretary-cum-sidekick, Robin Ellacot. They are investigating the disappearance of author Owen Quine, a once-successful novelist whose most recent manuscript, Bombyx Mori (Latin for silkworm) has also gone missing. Quine turns up dead, disembowelled, doused in acid and positioned on a dinner table in an abandoned flat, in a scene straight out of the manuscript he’d written.

Just as the lines between fiction and real life are blurred in the novel, so Rowling makes a continuous commentary about the publishing industry through her novel. The suspect pool for Quine’s murder includes his editor, his agent, his publisher, a rival novelist, and, rather sadly, his rather meek and dowdy wife, who has been left alone to care for their disabled daughter. Rowling pokes fun at the publishing industry with an acid tongue, sketching gross caricatures of agents, publishers and authors alike, and makes the rather telling comment: “If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.” When read in light of Rowling’s own rocket to fame and her failed attempt at anonymity with the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, these observations on the literary world take on a much more melancholy tone.

Meta-musings on the writing industry aside, the return of Strike is a welcome one, and the chemistry between him and Robin still sizzles away. The very competent Robin finally challenges Strike about her role in the company (albeit a two-man one), as she most definitely deserves a more prominent role than secretary. Strike is torn as he knows it’ll put Robin in a position where she’ll have to do work that her stuffy fiancé Matthew will disapprove of. One of the highlights of the novel, in fact, was the trainwreck of a meeting between Matthew and Strike for the first time, and readers won’t help feeling that Robin should ditch her fiancé for her ex-military boss…

The narrative zips along with the usual Rowling-esque twists and turns. It doesn’t quite pack the same punch as The Cuckoo’s Calling, but that is perhaps because Rowling was understandably feeling far more self-conscious about her work, having been ousted as Galbraith after its publication. The most intriguing and compelling parts of the novel are definitely the development of our crime-fighting duo, and if you take the sometimes over-complicated trappings with a pinch of salt, this will prove a highly enjoyable read.

Published June, 2014. When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days-as he has done before-and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home. But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives-meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced. When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before… A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, THE SILKWORM is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant, Robin Ellacott.

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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One comment

  1. I know it’s not fair to judge Rowling’s work for adults by the same standards as her work for children, but I have a hard time taking her seriously as a mystery writer. I think it’s because the “mysterious” elements of the Harry Potter novels were often quite obvious, though still entertaining. Do you feel that she writes well within the mystery genre?

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