Friday, October 11, 2013

Rowling, Galbraith and Writing

J.K. Rowling has a knack for weaving secrets into her stories. What appears one way is later creatively explained as something entirely different. She knows just how much detail to give and just how much to hold back. And, I would say, this is true of her writing career itself as well as her fiction, as she has slowly revealed her ability to write for three very different genres.

With Harry Potter she proved herself able to create a world of fantasy and fiction that is elaborate and well-crafted. She is a masterful storyteller, an entertainer of children and adults alike. Not to sound too "fan girl," but she changed the worlds of fantasy and writing, creating readers out of a generation that was not setting out to be interested in such things before she came along.

Then she released "Casual Vacancy." It didn't go over well with her fans and I think this was because people were expecting another Harry Potter and instead they got the difficult, abusive modern life of Tom Riddle, minus the magic. Readers who were/are into fantasy, those who fell under the "Harry Potter Halo Effect," were greeted with a book that was completely reality. And not the nice sides of reality. This book delves into welfare, drug abuse and infidelity. It touches on death, divorce and rape.

If readers look at this book as a novel, and not as a comparison to her fantasy writing, however they will see how well it stands on its own. This book has incredible depth of character. The world of Pagford is today's Western World. It is any neighborhood dealing with the issues that occur when the comforts of the middle class become threatened by the clashing world of the poverty-stricken, and no matter which side of that fence you sit on you'll recognize these folks as your neighbors, your rivals and your friends.

Finally there is "Cuckoo's Calling" published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. A mystery novel that exists somewhere in between Hogwarts and Pagford. This book involves some odd characters. A soldier with a missing leg who has turned gumshoe and also happens to be the son of a rock star and a groupie. Who but the creator of Tom Riddle and Minerva McGonagall could dream up a character sketch like that? (Seriously, look up the history of Ms. McGonagall. She has much more story than the books let on.)

"Cuckoo's Calling" is the first Rowling book that I did not give five stars to on Goodreads. I didn't devour it the way I have so many of her other books. Though the plot is well-executed and her knack for turning a narrative into a puzzle is strong, the puzzle didn't start out puzzling enough to make me unable to put it down. By comparison, I read "Deathly Hallows" for the first time in just two sittings (separated only by a five hour work shift.) "Sorceror's Stone" I read seven times in a row when I first discovered it because my library didn't yet have "Chamber of Secrets."

That being said, I love "Cuckoo's Calling" for the puzzles. It is a strong mystery novel with the ability to confuse, entice, and surprise the reader, now matter how good you think you are at solving mysteries. Though I did figure out who the "bad guy" was less than halfway through the book I still had to be told many of the details during the denouement, and I was surprised by quite a few. I remained skeptical of my own ability to figure out the ending, and pleasantly relieved that she didn't take it to the corny and campy direction it appeared to be headed in at first.

As a writer, of course, I look to my favorite authors as teachers. Rowling has a lot to teach in character development, sentence structure and setting, but I think her strongest suit is her spiderweb ability to tie a plot together. Her mind must be a maze of details and the obvious depth with which she is able to enter her own stories is incredible. If I can harness just a bit of that into my own writing, creating these amazing webs and details in my pieces, I'll feel a bit more successful.

She also appears to know just how to reveal her own talents. She proved herself in the fantasy world, then she put out a strong contemporary novel, and finished off with a mystery novel. She has shown, one book at a time, her ability to write for incredibly varying genres and the wealth of work she has to offer the literary world. She has also proven that she can't be nailed down. She isn't a fantasy writer or a mystery writer, but simply a writer. And one of the best at that.

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