Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Silkworm, a review

Reading Robert Galbraith's (J.K. Rowling's) The Silkworm made me think about writing and publishing. It isn't that the material is thoughtful--the narrator is very distant. It makes you wonder if the author shared the views expressed. Here is a quote from The Silkworm:

"With the invention of the Internet, any subliterate cretin can be Michiko Kakutani."

In case you don't know (I didn't), Michiko Kakutani is an award-winning book reviewer. What the quote is saying is that with the advent of the internet, people with blogs (cough! like me) and people who like to comment in those comment-boxes, can add their two cents about any book. The choice of "subliterate cretin" in the quote turns it into a very nasty critique of you and I.

Ouch! Zing!

Here is the thing though. If that quote had come from a John Steinbeck book, then I would know the author was taking a shot at me, since Steinbeck wasn't shy about criticizing the society/culture he was a part of (see The Grapes of Wrath).

But the quote came from a Galbraith-Rowling book... And in this age, that means the author may or may not have meant it. What's more, those words would be meaningless if Robert Galbraith didn't double as ultra-famous J.K. Rowling.

Don't believe me? Consider the following statement from a newspaper review, which discusses the enormous amount of one-liners in Galbraith's book that deal with the state of the British publishing industry.

NY Times reviewer: Do these observations (about publishing) take on more weight when we know that the writer is a superstar female author rather than a semi-obscure male one? I think they do. 

Or in other words, what's important is that a famous person wrote that, not the comment itself.




Author: Robert Galbraith
Genre: Mystery

Premise: Cormoran Strike must solve the disappearance of author Owen Quine.


Oh, where to begin... For the sake of brevity, I will go over the biggest issues I had with this book.


Is Cormoran Strike's sidekick a four year old? In this book, Robin comes off as waaaaay too needy. She wants Strike's approval and attention so much that it becomes annoying from the first few pages. Another thing is that Robin's relationship is too clearly going to go to hell in the future; there is no question about this, which will then lead to a type of relationship with Strike.

The relationship she has with her fiance is also problematic. The guy is an arrogant douche. How have they been together for as long as they have been in the story?

The Plot

Old Cormoran gets a visit from Mrs. Quine during which she convinces him to help her find her missing husband--a has-been writer on the brink of publishing a "controversial" manuscript for a new novel called Bombyx Mori. I liked the idea of a book within a book, but... Bombyx Mori is the kind of book where a fictional character neatly substitutes for a person in real life aaaaaaand, revelations are made about the personalities/lives of said persons. It's symbolic.

Okay. That a deviant would want to kill a writer to keep him from making damaging revelations to the public makes no sense at all. I mean, with a book that is as symbolic as Dante's "Divine Comedy," why would anyone bother? This is the information age. We kill each other over more important things, like the color of one's sneakers. Hell, if The Silkworm were set during Dante's time, it might have made sense as a motive.

So, that Cormoran would entertain the notion doesn't make him look very bright. I could not get around this, nor any of the lawyering up that the potential killers (publishing industry types) did when they found out about Owen Quine's manuscript.

That brings me to a big plot hole in the novel. There is this scene where publishing industry types are talking to lawyers to prepare themselves for the libel suit they plan on launching against the publishing house that puts Bombyx Mori in bookstores; they have read the manuscript and see its evil. Supposedly, Quine's manuscript is harmful enough to sue to keep it hidden. Yet, later it is revealed that the controversial information in Bombyx Mori is readily available to anyone looking for it.

So, why were the publishing industry types angry enough to sue? What was the fuss? It doesn't make sense. Would Lady Gaga sue a writer if they had a character in their novel who was just like her in every way, but then it was revealed that this character was secretly a man? The rumor of Lady Gaga being a man has made its rounds through the internet.

The paranoia over Bombyx Mori is unjustified. Maybe, if Owen Quine had been working on a memoir where he tells all about the people he knows...then, that would have justified the character reactions in The Silkworm.

I won't reveal what the ultimate reason for murdering Owen Quine is, but it left me with more questions than I cared to have after finishing a book. Consider this: If you're trying to murder someone, would you put them in a sling and slowly lower them into a pool filled with sharks? Sounds fun, but in this world, you would have to buy the sharks, the sling, use someone's pool, etc. That's just too elaborate and increases your chances of getting away with it--which is what most killers want to do.

The killer in The Silkworm goes all out, leaving me to wonder why a simple bullet to the head wouldn't have done the job?

As it is, the plot is just goofy.

Its Philosophy

The Silkworm makes a number of comments about the publishing industry...but it says nothing about it. The book has no philosophy; it just strings together commentary about it.

That quote I showed at the beginning of this post about readers with blogs reviewing books, well that isn't exactly a new sentiment. That's been a common thought since the onset of the web log. And that goes for the other thoughts in Galbraith's book, my favorite being about the number of writers today: "We need [more] readers...fewer writers."

The comments aren't even comments at all; they're things that its characters say.

What's the difference?

I mentioned Steinbeck because the narrator of The Grapes of Wrath makes critical statements about aspects of the current society. In The Silkworm, the characters make the critical statements, which amounts to not making statements at all. This is because a writer must remain true to a character's personality. You couldn't write about Nazi Germany without some of the Nazi characters making negative comments against Jews. This doesn't mean the author hates Jews. It just means the characterization requires this.

The overall effect of The Silkworm is confusing. What's the fun of all this commentary if it's regurgitated from the internet?


Cormoran Strike is still pretty cool.


I'm going to re-read the Harry Potter books. My memory cannot recall this many disappointments in those books. The Silkworm goes right up there with The Cuckoo's Calling, a place far lower than the lowest of the Harry Potter books. I will leave it at that.