Sunday, January 21, 2024

Accidental diarist: The Running Grave - Father Boyd : Essays in Idleness

7 Things A Happiness Scientist Taught Me About Finding More Joy Vogue

 Father Boyd : Essays in Idleness

Andrew Wylie’s rules for life America’s most feared literary agent on his friend Salman Rushdie, what Sally Rooney taught him, and how he has thrived in the “land of the completely stupid”.

A free and independent press is vital to preserve, but doing so requires the people running media companies to take that idea out of mothballs.

J.K. Rowling’s latest crime novel is 945 pages long. Could I go the distance?

Every January, I make a resolution to tackle a monster-size book. I’ve just read and hugely enjoyed Paul Murray’s Booker-shortlisted The Bee Sting, a tale of an Irish dysfunctional family which zaps between humour and tension, pathos and horror. But at 645 pages, I’m not sure it quite qualifies as monster-size.

Then there’s Nobel laureate Jon Fosse’s magnum opus Septology, another Booker-shortlisted novel, which in the Giramondo edition has 752 pages. The New York Times says it’s about God, art and death in one very long sentence. I felt exhausted just from reading that description.

So I have settled for a crowd-pleaser by one of the most popular authors on the planet, Robert Galbraith. As many readers will know, this is the pseudonym J. K. Rowling adopted when she began her series of novels about private eye Cormoran Strike and his sidekick Robin Ellacott. She was soon outed, and sales figures went from modest to stratospheric.

Are these books really that good? I wondered. Or is it the Rowling brand that sells them? I read the first, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and was not impressed enough to dive into the next five novels. But the seventh, The Running Grave, drew me back. Perfect monster-size: 945 pages, and pretty small print too.
The first thing to say is that it didn’t need to be that long. Nevertheless, I was totally sucked in. The Running Grave soon became compulsive reading.
Is it the characters? Legend has it that former Penguin Australia boss Bob Sessions once advised an aspiring crime writer to give his detective something distinctive: say, one arm. Rowling must have heard him: she’s given Strike one leg. Not that it seems to handicap him much. He’s a grumpy workaholic, and he and Robin are in love, but improbably enough, neither of them is ever allowed to confess it. That would spoil the unrequited surface tension.
Their love lives are completely separate. Robin has a policeman boyfriend and Strike has a series of disastrous encounters with toxic women, including his ex-wife. There’s a cast of thousands (I exaggerate, but it seems that way), subplots and backstories galore, and a host of interviews as the detective duo pursue their task of rescuing a wealthy client’s son from the clutches of a sinister religious sect. And yes, there are murders.
Rowling has the Dickensian habit of making all her characters a little larger than life, with varying success (do Cormoran’s love interests really have to be such harpies?), and she’s obsessive about getting their regional and class accents right and reproducing them in dialogue through wonky grammar and spelling. I found this irritating. However, it didn’t stop me staying up at night to find out what would happen next.
The real strength of the book is the way Rowling has created the entirely convincing and creepy world of her cult sect, the Universal Humanitarian Church. It seems as real as Hogwarts. We know it’s evil, and some of its proponents are flesh-crawlingly nasty, but Rowling also makes it very seductive, with a charismatic leader and a philosophy of bringing all religions together and doing good in the world. All you have to do is “admit the possibility” that there might be a god or a life beyond this earthly plane.
Robin goes undercover as a recruit, and we share her horror as the church world closes around her, and also the way the constant brainwashing weakens her resolve. Rowling is a deft weaver of tension, all-out action and more contemplative scenes, and she has plenty of surprises up her sleeve. All in all, a great monster read.
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