Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Silkworm by Robert Gilbraith (2014)

I am opening this review with a confession. I am a reading lemming. I like to read all the books that everyone else is reading, preferably before most people do. I hate saying, "No," to the question, "Have you read..." This is why I read most award winners, most bestsellers and anything that is written by a famous actress. I am terrible book egoist!

The Silkworm is the second in Robert Gilbraith's Cormoran Strike series. Robert Gilbraith is of course a psuedonym for the famous JK Rowling, a fact that ensures that these book will sell lots and lots and lots of copies. I read the first one (The Cuckoo's Calling) and thought it was okay but the ending was very silly. The only reason I read this one was because I knew that people would say to me, "Have you read the new JK Rowling?" and I wanted to be able to say, "Yes." Embarrassing, right?

Now that I have that off my chest, it's time to review this book. Like I mentioned earlier, this book will sell approximately one squillion copies and be reviewed in every major paper. In it, Cormoran Strike must solve a crime with the help of his trusty sidekick Robin and, in the process, prove that he is smarter and better than everyone else. The crime in this case is the disappearance of a not-very-popular author who has been caught up in a publishing industry scandal of his own making. There are plenty of reviews out there that discuss the plot in more detail; I do not see the need to add to them here. Instead, here are some general thoughts I had after reading the book.

1. Cormoran Strike has a prosthetic leg. This was established in the first chapter of the first book. It is clearly very important as it is referred to on average of once every three pages. Cormoran Strike also likes beer and watching football (soccer). These are also regularly referred to in the novel. It's like above JK Rowling's desk, there is a paper stuck on the wall that lists the traits of her characters and a note of how often to refer to them (Strike: likes beer (every fifteen pages - tick), watching football (every 100 pages - tick) and has prosthetic leg (every three pages - tick)). He's less of a character than he is a checklist of characteristics - there is no character development at all.

2. The language style in this book is confused. Each chapter opens with a quoted verse from a classic literary tale. Does anyone ever read those? I don't, but JK Rowling wants you to know that this is a LITERARY not a CHILDREN'S book and if she has to bash the reader over the head with 16th and 17th century poetic references to make that clear, then dammit she is going to do it. However, her most famous books were children's stories and that is reflected in the writing style, particularly when the characters are reflecting on their motivations. As a reader, I found this quite disjointing and it disrupted the flow of my reading.

3. Robert Gilbraith is a bit of a misogynist. Every woman in this book is put very firmly in her place: if she has children, she is boring and stupid and if she does not have children, she is unfulfilled, sad and spends her evenings at home alone or is a cheating sluttish sex demon. Women in power are bitches who should either be in an administrative and secretarial position or in the home where they belong. I am not familiar enough with the oeuvre of JK Rowling to say whether this is a characteristic of her style or if she's trying to make her male pseudonym more realistic but either way, it was pretty frustrating. Robin could be a great character if she wasn't solely defined in terms of her relationships with the men in her life who influence every single decision she makes.

Even with all of the flaws listed above, it is still very readable book. I absolutely would not pay for it but if you don't mind having no decent female characters or any character development, this is a decent way to spend 500 pages worth of time. A good holiday read but nothing more - three stars.     

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