|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 Vacancy, The 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.