Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Cuckoo’s Calling: a little review

According to this stock photography site, a magnifying glass has a convenient overlap. It = reading and also private detectives, so it's perfect for this post. Turns out you have to pay for a picture of an *actual* detective, and I'm much to cheap to do that.

According to this stock photography site, a magnifying glass has a convenient overlap. It connotes reading and also private detectives, so it’s perfect for this post. Turns out you have to pay for a picture of an *actual* detective, and I’m much to cheap to do that.

Like most people, I didn’t even know that the Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith existed until I read that Robert was actually JK Rowling. After reading the (largely) disparaging reviews of her other post-Harry book A Casual Vacancy, I wasn’t expecting very much. But I’d been wading my way through Marish Pessl’s Night Film, which I had uncharacteristically bought without downloading a sample because I’d loved her debut novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics so much. But when I realised that the action, such as it was, was turning occult and voodoo-y, I had to give up. What I’d hoped would be a mystery thriller was, in fact, a pretty shabbily written gothic horror, so I suppose I was starting off quite a low base when I downloaded the sample for the Cuckoo’s Calling.

I devoured the sample and hit the Buy Now button immediately, then read up to halfway in about four hours (not consecutively, of course – the toddler would never stand for that) and I am so besotted with the characters that they are almost all I can think about at the moment. One of the criticisms of A Casual Vacancy was that the characters were too unsympathetic, but within the first few pages, the protagonists of the Cuckoo’s Calling had endeared themselves to me completely.

The main character, a PI who gets roped into investigating the apparent suicide of a supermodel in central London, is of a new ilk for me. I’ve enjoyed the escapades of many a down-and-out private detective who ends up saving the day, but Cormoran Strike (how can you not love a character with a name like that?) is like no other. Unlike my (now) second-favourite fictional detective, Jackson Brodie, there’s no rakish charm about this man. No scruffy handsomeness or effortless flair or slapdash confidence. He is fat and looks like “a boxing Beethoven”. He has a prosthetic leg. He is self-conscious and introspective. He is fastidious in record-keeping and annoyingly and meticulously thorough, and he’s battling homelessness and debt collectors after leaving the home of his cruel and unhinged girlfriend. But he’s also exceptionally sharp and incisive, and his kindnesses are of the gruff variety. I find him so appealing and so interesting that I just can’t get enough of him.

His sidekick, a temp called Robin (yes, really), is sweet and serious, conservative (with a small “c”) and eager, with a totally unexpected resourcefulness and a talent for wheedling information out of the most reticent punter. Best of all, she’s a graceful liar, and I have become quite attached to her as well.

After finishing a few more “serious”, twisty books lately, I’m also relishing that the plot is pretty straightforward. It’s a typical whodunnit: the action doesn’t jump between different eras or perspectives from one chapter to the next. You know that when you click forward (or turn the page) to a new chapter, you’re going to get a resolution to the cliffhanger paragraph you’ve just finished. There are no tricks here. JK as Robert has written a solid, entertaining detective mystery featuring characters you really want to triumph (and others you really detest, as well).

One downside, though: like the Harry Potter books, the Cuckoo’s Calling sometimes drags its feet with excessively descriptive paragraphs. I don’t need to know exactly what the staircase, paintings, bar tender, fruit machines and carpets looked like in the pub in which Cormoran spent about five minutes. It’s all very evocative, but I think the same effect could be created with about 12 fewer sentences.

But this is still the best crime fiction/genre fiction/pulp-type book I’ve read since the last good Kate Atkinson (I mean, the ones before Life After Life, like Started Early, Took My Dog) and that time I read all of Gillian Flynn‘s books in the space of a week. And who am I to criticise the storytelling style of JK-Robert? As far as I’m concerned, she-he can keep the Cormoran Strike books coming.

Things I’ve lost. Thanks, exercise.

Obviously I look nothing like this when I run (thank goodness) - for one thing, this silhouette woman's bosom has a superior pillowy quality when compared to my own).

Obviously, I look nothing like this when I run. For one thing, I tend to wear clothes.

I started properly “working out” (ugh) three months ago to the day, and to commemorate this milestone in my life, I weighed myself properly for the first time today. It would appear that my running (do note that when I write “running”, I mean shuffling and, at the very most, gentle jogging) has shaken about 5 kilograms off me. This is significant for me, considering how hard it is for me to shift my weight and that the last time I lost any weight in a similar length of time was in the first trimester of my pregnancy (although that was a much more effective weight-loss strategy, kilogram for kilogram. I should write a book about it: excellent weight-loss tip: get pregnant, get morning- evening-sick, stop drinking alcohol and don’t eat anything after 2pm for about 13 weeks. Like most fad-y, dubious weight-loss strategies, the effects of this one would be disappointingly short-lived.) So I went from a BMI of 21 to a BMI of, like, 20, which must be worth something. Not that BMI is necessarily a good indicator of being in shape. My 6’4″ husband is really slim and trim, thanks to a combination of Jujitsu and kick-boxing and our largely vegetarian, low-GI dinners (though he’s still quite broad-shouldered, it must be said), but keeps getting BMI results that put him in the “pre-obese” category – as if it’s his destiny to be obese and he just needs to keep trying. He is not carrying any extra weight, so it’s clearly a ridiculous indicator that is most likely skewed to shorter people and those of average height.

But I’d never really wanted to lose weight. When I do, it all goes off my face and chest first (FFS). I’ve never been overweight except for that one year at university when it was probably touch-and-go, and also, having had a baby, I think it’s quite respectable to carry a little extra junk in the belly region (not that there’s anything wrong with having a belly if you haven’t had a baby – I just mean that since having Lil A I’ve been less conscious of my weight).

What I had wanted to lose by starting my foray into running was my fear of the thing I’d stigmatised for the last, oh, 20 years: exercise.

And it’s done exactly that. In three months, I’ve run the fear of exertion right out of my mind and now I’m signing up for a trail series, going for runs on the weekends, spending my savings on trail running shoes and a spare pair for running, and forgoing after-work drinks so I can hit the treadmill. This is the biggest victory for me: losing a long-nursed fear. I suppose I’ve also gained something, too (win some, lose some): an alarmingly fierce addiction.

Not that I ever run further than 5 kms, you understand. I’m still a bookworm with couch-potato tendencies at heart, after all.

“We’re still connected, but are we even friends?”

Image lifted from Pitchfork

Image lifted from Pitchfork

You know how there are some songs that you feel, rather than hear? Songs with lyrics that reach down into you and lodge somewhere between your gut and your heart? (Metaphorically. Not in, like, your lungs.)

There are not many, but there are some.

Pretty much anything by Bruce Springsteen does that to me. I know I’ve had too much to drink when I start telling my friends repeatedly that I feel like Bruce really knows me and that even though I’m not spiritual, I believe we’re connected in some way and even though I don’t believe in soul mates, I feel like he might be mine.

But I’m willing to put Springsteen aside for a moment after listening to the new Arcade Fire song, Reflektor, about one million times.

Click on that link and you’ll be taken to a site that gives various interpretations of the song’s lyrics. You’ll see that there are numerous themes and threads and tropes and plays on words in this insanely clever song. But the one interpretation of the lyrics that always gets me is the anti-internet, anti-social-media message, which is something like this:

This whole internet, the alternate reality that we plug into every single day, just reflects ourselves back at us. There’s no meaning. There’s no real connection. There’s no depth. It’s supposed to be the tool that keeps our relationships going, that elevates our communication and serves the world to us on our bright screens, but it leaves us feeling alone and flat and impotent.

There’s a lot of other stuff in there about disco music (disco balls being pretty excellent reflectors themselves), and references to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but it’s this message that compels me to keep pushing the Play triangle. I’ve been having these Luddite thoughts for a while now, feeling like I want to break free – from Twitter’s various loudspeakers and blowing of trumpets and smoke up asses, from Facebook’s reams of odd invitations and asinine notifications, from other people’s virtual pinboards and the frenetic scramble to read all the right articles before it’s too late. But where would I be without all of these platforms? I don’t know how to be an adult without spending 8 hours a day staring at a screen, continuously flicking my eyes over the things other people – strangers, mostly – throw out in real-time from behind their own screens.

If this message doesn’t resonate with you, you have to at least appreciate the irony that, for one version of the video, Arcade Fire have once again done an amazing virtual reality thing with Google that I don’t really understand but of which I am in awe. Read this Atlantic article that’s *neeeeearly* as smart as the song itself about the subversion in this move.

The sound’s pretty magic and multilayered, too, and features David frikken Bowie.

So listen to the song if you haven’t already, for god’s sake. Then listen to it again, and tell me you’re unmoved. Tell me it’s not the most edgy, deep, dauntingly and hauntingly perceptive thing you’ve heard in a long time.