". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Reading Wednesday - The Silkworm

Well, this one went on too long.

Rowling / Galbraith's inexperience with the hardboiled, noirish, private investigator genre exposes itself throughout her second Cormoran Strike novel, in ways that weren't so obvious in the first one -- which was also shorter.

How much she's done a borrow of the paint-by-the-numbers sort from out of the Big Hat of what we call generally mystery and suspense writers is also revealed. She intelligently borrows though, from the most successful.  Agatha Christie, for one, particularly from "Hickory Dickory Dock"; physical and character elements of Lee Child's Jack Reacher in her Striker protagonist, for two examples.

Judging from The Silkworm, it feels as though the author rather despises women.* ll the women in the book are repulsive in some way, with the exception of Striker's assistant Robin, who -- coincidentally? -- strongly resembles the author herself, including the constantly commented upon, distinctive, gorgeous red-gold tresses and fine figure. Robin's mother is also comes through as attractive, but is so in an age-appropriate mumsey style, so we know she too, like Robin, is acceptable, despite being female.  But Silkworm's character, the one whom Striker is compelled to rescue, a la Jack Reacher's white knight complex, is such a pathetic woman that it's her very helplessness that is the compelling factor in his decision to take her on. Though at one point he does witter to himself that it is her honesty: she really does want her husband to come back and she really loves her mentally dysfunctional daughter, that she is innocent, that motivates him.  So the only other kind of woman Strike or author can stomach, besides the brilliant and gorgeous Robin-type, is a pathetic, innocent, selfless incompetent.

O that wittering.  We get every detail of every movement, every thought, every conversation.  O lordessa save us!  When reading on the page one could easily skim through this, but listening to the audio version, every syllable is drawn out, and the reader - actor just lurves it all -- o the multiple voices of impersonation.  Really that so-called sexual-romantic tension between Robin and Strike, puleese.  One can believe Robin would admire him for his skills, but anything else, o good grief. Drop this, if there are more books, because the two as mentor-mentee, eventually equal partners in the business of detecting would be so much more interesting than this manufactured by-the-numbers attraction. But that's the rule for these protags: no matter how old, battered and injured, how rude and crude, woman just fall for them at first sight. Even smart, gorgeous, competent women.

By the way, Strike is not nice to women generally. He lies to them, he uses them even when he despises them, as with the publishing assistant. He feels tremendously sorry for himself all the time on the level of a fifteen-year-old boy, while evidently his author believes this shows him to be sensitive. But really, he's a drag to be around for anyone: male, female, transgender.

One other thing, author?  With the injury Strike has?  He could not keep going all through the book. I have years of experience with pain in parts of the body that affect walking and running, and I know.  But then, as the protagonists of many a sort of romance genre novel have magical vaginas that have every man who looks at them fall in at least lust, these guy protags have the magical body that keeps them WINNING physically and sexually, no matter age, disability, poverty or appearance.

The first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, had a charm of first time out, in which the author was able to describe the delight and pleasure she experienced herself of the perks of celebrity and wealth, from designer boutiques, private cars with driver, instant access into clubs that admit only the rich and famous, paparazzi.  That was fun, because she was having fun with it.

But, by the second novel, she seems only to know this now, so Striker must be stalked by the mobs of paps too, though it doesn't seem likely. Really, in this day and age, when have you seen a twitter feed blow up about a private investigator? seen one's face on the cover of media mags at the supermarket check-out? So, in order to have paparazzi stalking Strike, Strike must have a tabloid-famous father . . . .

Supposedly Strike is the cuckoo in his father's nest, unacknowledged, unwanted, impoverished, solitary, wounded by war, rejected for the seventy-millionith time by his tabloid-adored perfect beauty aristo financée.

However, whenever this this poor, solitary, broke, friendless, rejected bastard is up against it, imprisoned into inaction by his incapacities -- wait! --  he's revealed to have wizardly powers that get him immediate access, cars, cash, information, muscle -- er, he has loyal friends and relatives with money, influence, possessions and skills. Where would Strike have been in The Silkworm without his half-sibs, or even in Cuckoo, without his dad's loans -- which he can't pay back?

Elizabeth George's aristo New Scotland Yard DI Lynley, 8th Earl of Asherton, doesn't even get that kind of paparozzi coverage from the London press -- except for his wedding to another aristo.  But he and his cases don't. Good grief, one might think Strike is the third coming of both Sherlock and Poirot! It's not because he's brilliant, it's because his dad was one of the biggest rock 'n roll stars of the era when that mattered, and the figures he's investigating are celebrities or part of a celebrity culture.  Both these novels are all about celebrity, not about justice.

Both of these books have been bought by -- I believe, the BBC? -- to be made into series, just her other pseudonymous novel, A Casual Vacancy -- it too went on for too many pages that didn't add anything -- has been (and is currently being broadcast in the UK).  One does feel they will make better television series than they did books.  Particularly if the producers don't shove in all those latin tags at the top of each chapter that are in Cuckoo, and all those lines from Jacobin vengance tragedies that precede each Silkworm chapter -- there mostly to remind the reader of how very well educated the author is.  One feels that if the author had worked more on structure and pacing than she did on finding the right lines to quote, she might also have cleared up some of the loose ends such as the man who touched Orlando and the the thug from whom Strike conveniently has 500 pounds when he's supposedly broke, but never did the deed that supposedly earned him the payment of the 500 pounds.  If more attention had been given to these sorts of matters than private clubs, the best restaurants, wittering and paparazzi, The Silkworm would have been a better book to read and, particularly, to hear.


*   Of course, judging by this novel it appears the author also holds a low opinion of the publishing industry and everyone in it, from agents to editors to publishers, and certainly the young women who staff most of the administrative positions.

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