Friday, 30 August 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling): Depression, Quotes from the Classics & A Murder Mystery

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, or JK Rowling
The Cuckoo's Calling, a great tale of mystery, exploration
 and a little bit of Tennyson. 

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling has never really appealed to me. The novel is set in a village, which is perhaps just a bit too close to home to be exciting, and while I probably wouldn't hate The Casual VacancyThe Cuckoo's Calling seemed much more exciting. Rowling's a great writer, and the thought of her putting pen to paper to create a crime novel seemed like the perfect combination.

After the surge of publicity we immediately got the "Robert Galbraith" novel into the bookshop I was working at this summer, but, owing to the fact that the large paperback had certain rights and limits back then, there was only the option of hardback. I get funny about buying hardbacks. 1) Where would it live on my shelves? 2) What if it's rubbish after I've spent all that money? 3) Surely I can wait for paperback; it can't be that great, can it?

Fast forward to a fortnight ago. I was sitting on the train to Liverpool from London - having just been to the amazing Harry Potter Studio Tour and acted like a real nerd/superfan - with my Kindle and no paperback books on hand. The Cuckoo's Calling was on the Kindle store for about £7, and I decided to try the sample. The sample was consumed in a matter of minutes, and the £7 soon flew out of my bank account.

Despite getting really into it on my train journey, I've just finished The Cuckoo's Calling this morning, after having several sessions of War and Peace reading (yes, more posts on that still to come!) at the same time as reading it. It's a fantastic book. It's quite like the Stieg Larsson Millennium series, particularly due to the attractive females, the emphasis on physical appearance, and the dual personalities of several characters. I think that Rowling does it better, though.

For one, Rowling uses her classics degree (from my university, might I add!) to really complement both her writing and the crime genre. Each part of the novel begins with a epigraph from classic literature, with examples including passages from Horace's Odes and Virgil's The Aeneid.

SPOILER, you may want to skip two paragraphs ahead now! 

The book also ends with an incredible quote from Tennyson's Ulysses.  Yes, Tennyson's Ulysses, the poem that I so frequently adore and eulogise on this blog as one of the greatest antidotes to my PTSD symptoms. The passage included goes as so,

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name...

Wonderful, isn't it? It's such a sublime poem to read, and I'd like to expand my memorisation of its last stanza to cover a much larger part of the piece one day. Tennyson's one of those writers I feel somehow connected to, or similar to, in the way that Tolstoy has always struck a chord with me. Rowling too, in this book, provides much that those who have suffered from mental health issues will relate to. Her struggle with depression has been made quite public in the past, and it's interesting to approach The Cuckoo's Calling with a consideration of this.

Rowling describes a destructive, psychopathic side of mental illness through some characters (albeit with an insight into their wider life and past), but she also describes it as something normal, often unpreventable, and applicable to even the most "unexpected types". The girl who has everything can be depressed too, implies Rowling.

The Cuckoo's Calling is a great novel, and I truly hope there's a sequel, even if all the publicity has made Rowling reconsider this. It's much more than a crime novel, particularly owing to Rowling's personal experience, education, and writing history.


Nishita said...

This is the first review I read that inclines me towards this book. I like crime fiction, but I've never seen Rowling as doing it well. But when you say she makes it literary, then I have to think again.

Lee-Anne Penny said...

I have been very much out of touch with the world this summer - living for three months in a tv and internet-free zone - but I did hear that this book existed. I find it fascinating that it's publication history has been so revealing of the way we think of unknown authors. It's made me think about my own propensity to read authors who have been given the nod by others, or by previously exposure to their work. Thanks for the review. I'll admit to skimming - thanks for the spoiler warning! I will probably read this at some point. What is your recommendation for suitability for teenagers? My 15 year old is a classics buff but has a gentle sensibility regarding gore and sex and strong language.

tolstoytherapy said...

I'm glad you found it useful, Nishita! The book did have a few plot moments that I found unlikely and a little far-fetched, hence the 4 rather than 5 star rating, but I really liked everything else. The characters were particularly well-created, I thought, and the intertextuality adds another literary level to the book :)

melissa vizcarra said...

I just started reading this! Also on my Kindle. I skipped the last few paragraphs to avoid the spoilers. So far I'm really enjoying it. I really like how J.K. Rowling writes, I like beautifully crafted sentences and she is very good at that, I think. I actually did like The Casual Vacancy, but I live in a crowded, chaotic city in South America, so a small English village is as exotic to me as Lima might be to you, haha. I will definitely finish The Cuckoo's Calling this weekend, can't wait!

tolstoytherapy said...

Hi Lee-Anne, I applaud you on having a technology-free summer! In some ways I'd like to have read the novel before it came out that Rowling wrote it, but having that knowledge did add subtle aspects to my reading experience.

I'd say that your 15y/o might find the book a bit distressing, although I generally avoid violent and disturbing books and found this to be bearable. There is a lot of strong language at times, and the plot is quite violent/gory in itself. Perhaps you could try reading it and decide if it's appropriate. Thanks for the comment!

Stephanie said...

Adding this to my wish list. As an aside, I never knew Rowling had a classics degree.

bellezza said...

So glad to know you liked this, Lucy, as I trust your opinion implicitly. I haven't read A Casual Vacancy, although I own it, and I so commiserate with the question of what to do with hardbacks...perhaps the money will have to fly out of my bank account up into my kindle, too. How fun that you and Rowling went to the same university! How I would love a degree in Literature, although there wasn't time with my dual major in Education and Psychology.

Brian Joseph said...

Great commentary on this book Lucy.

It really sounds meaningful in terms of plot and characters.

The literary quotes at the beginning of chapters sound like
a great touch.

Repsych said...

Very nice review Lucy. Many thanks. I was thinking of reading the Casual Vacancy but I'll definetely read the Cuckoo's Calling. Your post also made me realise, I've never read crime fiction before! I have to change this :) Hope you have fun in Spain. Looking forward to hearing your news.

Tripobox said...

Hi Melissa, I hope you're enjoying it still/enjoyed it! I too really like how she writes; the transition between children's and adult's fiction seemed to be seamless for her. I think I will give The Casual Vacancy a try to be honest, I seem to be wanting more of Rowling's writing and it may make me think of home while I'm here in Spain! Reading The Cuckoo's Calling first was definitely a good move though :) I hope you're doing well, I look forward to chatting more when I get more settled into work/life here!

tolstoytherapy said...

Hi Melissa, I hope you're enjoying it still/enjoyed it! I too really like how she writes; the transition between children's and adult's fiction seemed to be seamless for her. I think I will give The Casual Vacancy a try to be honest, I seem to be wanting more of Rowling's writing and it may make me think of home while I'm here in Spain! Reading The Cuckoo's Calling first was definitely a good move though :) I hope you're doing well, I look forward to chatting more when I get more settled into work/life here!

tolstoytherapy said...

Hi Steph! Yes, she's got a French & Classics degree! I think you'd enjoy the novel... I believe it would complement your taste in films :)

tolstoytherapy said...

Hi Belleza, yes that seems like an intense course to study! It is exciting that Rowling went to my university, I agree :) It's particularly interesting to think about how she based some aspects of Harry Potter on certain lecturers and the campus itself! If you decide to read A Casual Vacancy or The Cuckoo's Calling you'll have to let me know! If I read the former and think it's worth reading I'll leave a message on your blog too :) Hope you're well, Lucy.

tolstoytherapy said...

Hi Brian, I definitely found it to be a meaningful text! Also, as with so many other favourite books of mine, the literary quotes really added to my reading experience. There's something about intertextuality that really helps me to enjoy a book :)

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks Angeliki! I've never read much crime fiction before but I really enjoyed this novel :) I think you'd enjoy the psychology behind the characters and their motives too! Thanks for the well-wishes, I'll try and post about everything I've been up to in the next day or so :) Hope you're well, I haven't seen you around much in the blog world lately!

melissa vizcarra said...

How is the Barcelona life going so far?

tolstoytherapy said...

It's going well, thanks! I like the area I'm living in and work is going well :) Homesickness hasn't kicked in yet, and as I'm making sure to visit exciting places and keep busy it shouldn't be too unbearable when it does. I'm also having people from home visit me from time to time so that makes things easier!

I noticed you replied to my comment on your blog by asking if I'd visited Parc Guëll... I have and I loved it! When my boyfriend is here next week I'm going to make sure to visit again with him; it's such a great landmark and the views are incredible. I went really early in the morning so it was lovely and quiet too.

But yeah, I really love the city so far :) I hope you're ok and that your writing project is productive and exciting at the moment!

CygnusCarnivorum said...

I just finished reading The Cuckoo's Calling and was absolutely delighted by the quotation of Ulysses. So much so that I decided to search whether anyone had ever analyzed the text for parallels between the book and the various tales in which Aeneas or Odysseus figure, leading me to your post. (I found none, btw. Did not look very hard.)

I can't wait to read your thoughts on how the poem has helped you deal with PTSD. I've used it to help me cope with anxiety and depression, my husband's PTSD, and my teen's (blessedly finished) bouts of suicidal thoughts.

We who have suffered psychological trauma are different from others and think differently, but our experiences can be our strength. Personally, "my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die." Hope to see you there!