“Unhappy is he whose fame makes
his misfortunes famous.”
Lucius Accius, Telephus*
Still trying to get inside J.K. Rowling’s head, I’ve been thinking more about The Cuckoo’s Calling. (Monday’s review was, unintentionally, a tad judgmental. It really was a fun story. Just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by its cover OR its first page. And keep in mind, I’m an as yet unpublished nobody!)
Check this out. Maybe Rowling wanted to sound like a newbie. She wrote that first page a wee bit amateurishly on purpose, knowing readers’ interest in the story of the fallen supermodel would carry them to page 2.
She’s an expert storyteller, right? So we have to assume she does know what she’s doing.
“Lucky is he who has been able to understand the causes of things”
Virgil, Georgics, Book 2*
What if it was a deliberate attempt to sound nothing like herself? She did invent Robert Galbraith, creating a fictitious author bio for the jacket.
What if she was challenging herself to do something different? Yeah, she nailed YA fantasy, but maybe she wanted to stretch her writing muscles. Maybe she was bored. Maybe the excitement of Pottermania wore off.
“For in every ill-turn of fortune
the most unhappy sort of unfortunate man
is the one who has been happy.”
Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae*
Rowling puts herself into the story more discreetly, exploring the unhappy side of fame in The Cuckoo’s Calling. The alleged suicide is by a famous supermodel known for her tragic childhood and mental health issues. Cormoran Strike, the private detective hired to investigate the case, interviews many bright young things in the fashion and music industries, all of whom focus on the negative aspects of fame— dealing with paparazzi and hangers on, in particular. Strike identifies with their angst as he himself is the son of an aging rock star.
Rowling is revealing her own disillusionment. Fame and fortune have their charms, but who wouldn’t miss being able to shop, date, eat, or heck, enter her own home in peace? She said once that she wrote most of the first Harry Potter book in a coffee shop. I bet she misses being able to do that.
“No stranger to trouble myself, I am learning to care for the unhappy.”
Virgil, Aeneid, Book 1*
The Johari window is a psychological term that refers to self-disclosure and self-discovery in our relationships with others.
Or, as Robin, Strike’s secretary in the book, explains, “It’s all to do with how well we know ourselves, and how well other people know us.”
A no-brainer theme for a detective story, and Rowling writes it well from the perspective of one with a relatively small “Open” quadrant. (Using a pseudonym is an obvious sign of wanting to remain “Hidden.”)
In addressing her characters’ interactions— who shares what with whom, who trusts whom, who’s hiding what— she is able to investigate her personal balance of sharing enough without permitting fans, media vultures, and would-be ‘friends’ to get too close. Writing as Galbraith, she was able to enjoy the excitement of creating a story, pitching it to editors, getting the call we all long for— your manuscript’s been accepted!— without the phone ringing off the hook, incessant interviews, or being hounded at Harrod’s.
“Nothing is an unmixed blessing.”
Horace, Odes, Book 2*
Rowling’s characters this time around reveal nothing on the surface. For example, instead of giving us obvious bad guys easily pegged by their bad guy names— no Draco Malfoys or Severus Snapes here in the real London— she chose to have us guess the culprit among normal sounding suspects like Tony Landry and Evan Duffield.
Distancing herself from the playfulness of naming middle grade characters, and the off-the-wall nature of the magical realm in general— things she was expert at— was just one part of her genre-crossing plan. Even before news broke that she was the real author, no reviewer suggested that Galbraith’s style was reminiscent of Rowling. The ability to write in a completely new genre with an entirely different voice speaks to her genius.
“And the best plan is, as the popular saying was, to profit by the folly of others.”
Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis*
Now that she’s been outed, Rowling has earned far more (attention AND cash) for her crime debut than Robert Galbraith would have. She’s angry now about having her cover blown. Fair enough. She didn’t want the attention, and doesn’t need the money. But I imagine in time she’ll come to enjoy telling the story of her broken Johari window.
“Maybe one day it will be cheering even to remember these things.”
Virgil, Aeneid, Book 1*
*All quotes are Rowling’s Section Headings from The Cuckoo’s Calling. A pretty telling glimpse through the glass in and of themselves, yeah?