Book Review: The Silkworm

 

‘When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls private detective Cormoran Strike. At first she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days 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. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were published it would ruin lives – so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.’

‘The Silkworm’ is the second novel in the Cormoran Strike series, written by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K Rowling). I worked in a charity shop last summer, and bought this there in September, however only picked it up at the start of this year. ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’, the first book in this series, was appealing and interesting, so I had high hopes for ‘The Silkworm’.

I should say right now that I am a big JKR fan. I grew up with Harry Potter, and devoured ‘The Casual Vacancy’ the day it was released. I look up to her as a writer and enjoy much of her work. It is surprising, then, that I wasn’t massively impressed with this book. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but she lost me several times along the way. As I said, I picked this up at the start of the year. University work along with other things has led me to stop and start it several times, so maybe this is what made it so difficult for me to engage with the plot. Making myself sit down and finish it over the last few days, in order to review it, has improved my opinion of it. It’s well written and clearly well thought out, but still felt over complicated.

Part of the problem was the amount of background characters. While all important to the overall outcome and all well written, it was confusing to keep track of them all and fully keep up with the storyline. I felt like as soon as I got a handle on everyone and started to get on top of the plot, a new character was introduced. The plot itself was convoluted and twisted – this is to be expected in crime fiction, however in this case I didn’t feel like it was necessary to the degree that Rowling took it. There was a lot of backtracking, and much of the process felt repetitive; several interviews made up a large part of the middle of the book, and these were largely forgotten by the end, for example.

One thing Rowling always does well, however, and this is no exception, is write realistic characters. Strike, Robin, Matthew and a few others from ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ return in this, and go through some serious character development. Robin and Matthew finally discuss Robin’s career goals and relationship with Cormoran, who in turn deals with his ex-fiancée’s very public new engagement and subsequent marriage. Robin comes into her own and Strike begins to see her in a more equal light than before; she is no longer seen as just a receptionist but someone with ambition and talent for detective work – which we the readers have seen all along. It’s satisfying to see these characters develop, and the new characters we are introduced to have a lot of depth. I may not have engaged with the plot as well as I’d hoped, but I can’t fault Rowling’s ability to create characters that are believable and relatable.

Overall, the novel was good, but for me personally it was a bit of a disappointment – it didn’t excite me like much of Rowling’s other work. It was a decent read, and I may in fact read the next in the series, however ‘The Casual Vacancy’ triggered a much more passionate reaction in me (as did Harry Potter, quite obviously – although I’m trying to avoid comparisons with that for obvious reasons). I wanted to discuss it and the themes involved in detail, although as a largely political book I suppose that was the aim. ‘The Silkworm’ was enjoyable, but for me it was just too drawn out.

Ro x

Book Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Spoiler Free!)

 

‘Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother Lowell.

Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back, back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from her home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.’

This novel was recommended to me by my boyfriend. I was sat next to him on a tube over Easter when he reached ‘the twist’ – the infamous page 77. He told me almost immediately that I needed to read this book. As soon as I reached page 77 myself, I knew where he was coming from. As soon as I finished the book, I recommended it to my mum (and now I’m recommending it to you).

The start of the novel is good, but largely unremarkable to me – as a fan of John Green, Stephen Chbosky and Winona Ryder, the start (or, middle, which is where Fowler decides to start) of Rosemary’s story is pretty familiar; unassuming young adult with traumatic childhood event meets wild, rebellious young adult and does something reckless. I like those kinds of stories, and I still wanted to read on, but I’ve seen a lot of them.

I’ve mentioned page 77 twice already, but this is the ultimate turning point. A twist that is both shocking and blindingly obvious is so hard to achieve, but Fowler pulls it off perfectly; you’re left both astounded by the revelation and your own stupidity at not seeing it coming. Fowler hints at it from the start, and yet I at least never fully picked up on it.  I went from feeling like I’d seen this story before to submerging myself in the narrative completely; while before I’d been able to pick it up for a few pages here and there and happily leave it when I needed to do work or wanted to read something else, I binge-read the rest of it in two days. It only took that long because there were other things that unfortunately pulled me away from it.

The problem with ‘the twist’ is that it adds so many extra layers to the text – I could go on and on about various other topics, but that would spoil it completely. Maybe I’ll write a spoiler-filled piece on it some other time instead, because it’s such an interesting text to discuss in contexts that I just can’t talk about without ruining it.

This book is so deep. The characters are realistic and well-rounded, if frustrating at times, and the story is fantastic. The structure of it works surprisingly well and has hints of meta-fiction that as a reader I kind of love and as a writer I admire. Fowler writes beautifully and has created something incredibly powerful that I could only dream of achieving myself.

Last words on the matter: if you’re not sold at the start, wait until page 77. It’s worth it.

Ro x