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Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling

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The SHSB Book Club picks up its first book of the year

At the end of October the SHSB Book Club was set up for Sixth Formers to discuss books together as a group, outside of the A Level curriculum. We decided on The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (it’s a pseudonym – you may know them as J. K. Rowling) and will be having a discussion during a lunchtime soon. But before this, I wanted to share my own review of the novel and hopefully influence you to pick it up!

The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first book in a crime trilogy and Rowling’s second adult book following the completion of the Harry Potter series. It follows war veteran turned private detective Cormoran Strike and his temporary secretary Robin Ellacott as they investigate the murder/suicide of famous model Lula Landry who plunges from her third floor balcony on a cold January night.

From that synopsis you’d imagine a story that sparkles with glamour. But, that’s just not the case. Instead, Rowling manages to capture a grimy and grubby London which is expressed wonderfully through Strike sleeping on a camp bed in his office following a tumultuous break-up. This grime mixes with the more glamorous elements of the story – a fashion shoot and celebrity club, for example – to show the negative side of publicity and fame. Rowling seems to be writing from personal experience here as following the success of Harry Potter she was forced to move house due to persistent paparazzi. Therefore, whilst Rowling does paint a rather negative vision of fame, it creates empathy for the characters that the tabloids present as objects and the reader gets to experience from the other side of the lens.

As Rowling writes with a male pseudonym, I think it comes across very clearly that she is trying to present the story through the male gaze. At the start of the novel Strike saves Robin from falling down the stairs (which he was ultimately the cause for) by grabbing hold of her. It just so happens that he grabbed hold of her left breast and this dominates the following chapter. Rowling almost seems to express things crudely or give them sexual undertones in a way that seems to be trying too hard to appear male in the most stereotypical way possible. The crudity works well for the setting, but I felt it created distance between Strike and the reader, making him unlikeable, when you want him to be a hero. However, Rowling’s subversion of the hero detective trope is refreshing and it’s interesting to read about a grubby detective that you’re not entirely sure you like as a person.

Overall, I think this is an enjoyable book and probably best suited to reading on a sunny beach whilst on holiday. Rowling creates characters that don’t fit with the normal mould and plots a story that has you guessing until the very last chapter. If you think you might like to join the discussion, then keep a look out for the SHSB Book Club posters that will appear before our next meeting!

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