cuckoo's calling for book club robert galbraith

Cuckoo’s Calling Discussion for BOOK CLUB!

It’s time to talk through The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith! I’ll start off the discussion with this question:

The theme of fame and misfortune takes the center stage in the Cuckoo’s Calling. Knowing that Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym, how do you think she is processing through fame in anonymity?

Certainly book one of Harry Potter began with a joyful perspective on fame and ended with a more disillusioned perspective — we know that this series will be seven books long and will parallel the Harry Potter series. How does Harry’s fame parallel Lula and Cormoran’s?

cormoran strike john c reilly cuckoo's calling book club

(As always, spoilers should be assumed.)


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  1. I think one of the things I noticed about the fame motif is that great quote at the beginning about how the worst kind of unhappiness comes to those whose fame makes their misfortunes well-known. I wonder if Rowling, who is known for being coy and private, got tired of people simply associating any bad thing about any famous person with their idea of that person in general, such as critics who interpret a work solely on the person rather than on the integrity of the text. I think this is one of the few ways you can mention the personality of the author of a work in a critique and still defer to the work in question.

    She does, truly, hate how the press objectifies the famous. It’s like Deeby said, •The press chased her out that window.•

  2. First off: Cormoran’s physical description made me think of John C. Reilly as a British detective. If any of you imagined him differently then I am forced to conclude that you are wrong. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
    Second: I look at Cormoran and Harry and see two individuals who, after having fame thrust upon them, would have rather had “normal” lives. This, along with each of their dodgy upbringings, uniquely equips them to handle their “quests.” Humility as a result of unrequested fame, though not thorough in each character (Cormoran and Harry both enjoy showing off at times), is the trait that defines them in my mind.

    I get to ask a question, too, right? What did everyone think of Cormoran’s sidekick, Robin? Did you see any similarities to Hermoine and/or Ron?

    1. Haha, awesome, yeah I totally get that for sure. A la:

      cormoran strike john c reilly cuckoo's calling book club

      Officially added to the post.

      Certainly Cormoran has his scars: his leg was blown off. And if these really are linked, I would venture to guess it was blown off by the same guy who keeps giving him death threats. He is, in another light, some weird mashup of both John Watson and Sherlock. Brilliant, yet visceral emotions. Strong, yet wounded in Afghanistan. Observant, yet oblivious.

      Humility as a result of unrequested fame. I like that. Though I doubt that showing off and arrogance — or even bragging — are the same thing. I’ve been thinking about that lately, how “showmanship” is really just any performance art: music, speech, acting, dance, comedy, etc. The difference is whether or not the show or the person on stage takes precedence.

      Certainly in Harry’s case and Strike’s, the show must go on.

    2. I was under the impression that the death threats were only from the upset former client. But I certainly might have missed something.

    3. No that’s my point. In HP 1, Voldemort is but a faint memory and yet the misbelief connected to him drives the plot. It’s the threat of Voldemort’s return in the midst of the Philospher’s Stone hunt that makes the current case matter.

      In the same way, why tell us about a death threat at all if it’s truly inconsequential?

    1. I totally missed that! After reading some reviews after finishing the book I began to wonder what I missed since I consumed the book through the Audible app. On the one hand, I loved hearing the words read in a way that the author might have pronounced them. On the other hand I worry that missed details that you might dog-ear on a page or maybe re-read to fully get it.
      Can you elaborate about the bird motif you noticed? The only thing I really caught was that Guy called her “Cuckoo” but I never really heard a sufficient reasoning behind that nickname.

  3. In thinking over this all again today, the way families are depicted and key to the plot in Cuckoo and HP really sticks out to me. The lack of love and/or stability early on from their family; a desire for the “ideal” family observed at a friend’s home; the facade of a happy family cracking under the weight of reality and stress; the desire for discovering long lost family.

    What did everyone think of the different family units that we came across in the book?

    1. That’s a really good point. It’s a theme she comes back to often — even in THE CASUAL VACANCY, which seems to focus more on the slow disintegration of the family when a true shepherd leaves suddenly. Of course, it could very well be a commentary on Obama’s predecessor prior to his choice, as John seems to think, in which case that would all the more highlight the effect of societal decay on the family.

      As for Cuckoo, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that all of them search for family in some regard — search for a nest, as it were — and either find themselves hunted or flocking respectively? That they all find themselves in the wasteland of the family and if they could only get back together again. Makes me sad, really. And it makes me wonder if justice is, in her mind, something that can remake those bonds.

      Certainly reminds me of myself. Some people liked Harry Potter for the magic. I liked it because I understood him.

  4. What about the romantic aspect: how does objectifying the “top women in the world” sexually parallel the kind of voyeurism that plagues the tabloids and the privileged who exploit those on their front pages?

  5. I love the idea of Reilly as Strike, but did you see BBC has cast Tom Burke as Strike for a TV series? I’m curious to see how that plays out.

    I love that Robin was Strike’s Watson. And yes, there were some echoes of Hermione in her.

    I keep wondering what it must be like to have this new series held up forever to HP. I know that authors don’t always appreciate the assumption that their material is based on their own lives (and as I type this I must admit wondering how much of the discussion about fame and anonymity in this novel was autobiographical for Rowling), and so in a related kind of way, I wonder how much authors appreciate comparisons to previous works. Does Rowling wish Strike could just stand on his own I wonder? Without any comparison to Harry?

    1. Hey Jessica, thanks!

      Yeah, he’s been casted.

      Me too – I’m going to love to see how their relationship develops over time.

      You’re right, of course. That’s kind of what I was getting at with my first comment: the only time in which it’s a good idea to invoke the person of the author in the work in question is when doing so critiques such a practice. To quote at the start of the work, ‘Unhappy is he whose fame makes his misfortunes famous’ is, essentially, to backhand that kind of patter and criticism: Harry Potter should never have been first and foremost an insight into Jo Rowling’s personal life, but the vast majority of the British Press and critical community made it so. Nothing — and I think John would back me up on this if he gets a moment — nothing made her happier than when someone interpreted Harry Potter simply within the cannon of what Harry Potter had to offer. Inside the boundary lines of its own pages, we find the tools we need already laid out before us to plunge the meaning of the work. And to let someone’s fame be the key indicator for asking whether or not her personhood shows up in the work is precisely what’s she’s arguing against. I talk about this at length in an article in Writing Rules, Revised.

      My main point of bringing it up was to get at the rest of the work: how do we understand the value of Lula’s contribution if we only see her life through the lens of the camera? How do we even understand her contribution to the camera if that’s all we know? And further, how do we move from that to understand this book if we only understand it knowing that it’s Rowling who wrote it? And how can we understand her contribution to the literary canon if we do the same?

      The point of bringing it up (and I obviously wasn’t clear, so forgive me) was to say that this book is sort of a meta-critique of much of the criticism and press she received which had ultimately nothing to do with the good she was offering and the truths she hoped to communicate through her work.

      Moving forward, then, what parts of Lula’s life went unseen by those who appeared to keep a close eye on her?

      And I wonder what that tells us about the lives we chose to see in others?

      It is, after all, called a SPOTlight for a reason…

  6. “A meta-critique”–yes. It makes this book even more interesting then. It’s not just a detective novel.

    I’m thinking about your question at the end of the post above, and I know it’s kind of a general answer but I think those closest to Lula forgot her humanity. They saw her as a meal ticket/free ride, something to fill an emotional need, an accoutrement, etc. but so many of them forgot to see her as young woman with her own needs, desires, hurts. That she was just as real as they were–with her own problems and relationship issues. A very real human desire drove her to try to connect with her birth family, and yet those closest to her couldn’t seem to see that for what it was. Their own biases cast that search in a negative light, therefore revealing their own blindness to who she really was and what she really wanted.

    1. Oh absolutely not. I think “mystery” is simply the invisibility cloak that Rowling throws in order to get us to bite on her real story. Book 6 HP was a love story cleverly disguised as a mystery CLEVERLY DISGUISED as a YA fantasy. Season eleven WRITING EXCUSES is particularly helpful on this front: their idea of elemental genres. The external is always mystery but her elemental genre shifts. This one had a classic relationship aspect to it, as Matt alluded to above.

      Oh totally. I agree. She had her hurts and hang ups and also her own incredible brand of courage. And brand in the old sense: it was something seared into her very being. The way she treated fellow junkies, fellow working class members: a recurring theme in Rowling is this distain for the bourgeoisie and the way their status quo erodes the well being of the least of these. Lula got lucky but not lucky enough.

      In the end, it’s that honest search for our real home and kith and kin that drives all of us but especially those of us living in a post-colonial western society. Sehnsucht. That longing for home.

      It drives us to seek out true relationship rather than the appearance of relationship. Towards those in the trenches detoxing with us or to blood relatives rather than photographers and exploiters and frauds. It drives us towards a fulfilling job with a challenging boss rather than towards men who do not see our hidden genius. It drives us away from those who psychologically manipulate us and towards those who see the pain inside and do not shirk when they see. It drives us towards the grace of a child who loves our company and away from a child who wants our fortune. It drives us, in short, towards love and towards reason shared rather than towards objects.

      “To sin is to treat people as things.” — Vonnegut.

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