THE SILKWORM by Robert Galbraith

Robert Galbraith is really JK Rowling, of Harry Potter fame. I am not sure I really understand why she took another name to write adult private investigator novels because it didn't take long for her to be sprung. But like the name she chose, this work is totally different in every possible way from the Harry Potter series. As you would expect!

Cormoran Strike (she always has great names for her characters) is a private investigator, a man who has had an interesting career in the defence forces and the police, and now working for himself. Assisting him in his one-man band business is his wonderful assistant, Robin, dying to become a private investigator herself, following and observing every move Cormoran makes. To be honest, she has way more smarts than Cormoran, and is far more instrumental in solving the case.

With a name like Cormoran Strike you would have to be a bit of a maverick and he now walks a rather blurry line between the wrong and right side of the law as he attempts to help helpless citizens in their pursuit of justice. Most of his work is domestic related - spouses suspecting spouses of misbehaving and engaging Cormoran to tail, photograph and report back. In the midst of all this bread and butter stuff, he is approached by a woman who happens to be the long suffering wife of a famous author. The writer has gone missing, she suspects foul play, and Cormoran finds a routine missing person case becomes considerably bigger and more awful than he could have imagined.

And this is actually the problem for me with the novel - the imagination. The author who is missing, Owen Quine, writes quite bizarre and disquieting books. Not a nice man, and neither are any of the seven people closely associated with Quine that Strikes finally identifies as suspects. The seven people have been redrawn as fictional characters in Quine's latest controversial manuscript, entitled Bombyx Mori -the scientific name for a variety of silkworm.  In this manuscript, the protagonist, Bombyx, is a writer who is "repeatedly abused, tormented and ultimately eaten alive by the people in his life whilst going to extraordinary lengths to capture and preserve his talent for their own selfish gains." Does it sound weird? Well, it is, really weird. As I said way too much imagination. The whole thing becomes so convuluted and complicated and dare I say it ridiculous that I just could not take any of it seriously. And so it lost me. Apart from the very real Robin, I couldn't engage with any of the characters - all self absorbed back stabbing narcissists - makes it even harder to work out who is the villain, as they are all vile. And I just thought Strike was a bit of clown - the usual failed detective, with a sad lonely life, living in the tiny decepit flat above his offices, drinks too much, has a crap diet, rude and grumpy. Plus the whole thing is very, very long. The ending when it comes, is a massive relief, and not much of a surprise, as  I said the baddy could have been any of the seven.

Having adored all the Harry Potter books, marveled at them, Cormoran Strike is just one great big massive disappointment. Which saddens me. Maybe I will try JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy, written under her own name - apparently it is good, and I don't want to give up on her just yet!


Beautiful descriptive writing, the taste and feel of India drips off the page, but not a nice story.

Exquisetly written and totally evocative of modern day India, still caught it would seem between the demands of the consumerist 21st century, and the deep rooted spiritulism at the core of what India is all about. I loved the writing, the drawing of the characters, the small and minute detail of each of them and the exchanges that take place between them. Amidst the chaos of modern day India, it is the intimacy of the relationships between people, the ties that bind, that stand out so much in this story.

But it is not a nice story, and throughout there is an undertone of menace, of impending disaster, and as the Guardian reviewer put it, 'violence and misogyny abound'. Such a prevalent theme in novels of India.

Nomita, now a young woman, has returned to India, having left at about the age of 12, when she was fostered/adopted by a woman in Norway. When she was about 6 or 7, she lost her entire family during a time of violence, was rescued with a number of other young girls from a boat and they were all placed in the care of a highly respected and adored spiritual leader at his ashram. His good name is of course a cover for a range of abuse that takes place at the ashram and the girls are among the victims. Nom's whole childhood is pretty grim, including her time in Norway, and now as a young woman she wishes to find some closure by returning to the ashram, abandoned and derelict. The town itself is still a major pilgrimage destination and floods of tourists visit.

As a result Nom runs into other characters in the story including 3 elderly women travelling together to make a once in a lifetime pilgrimage, a photographer travelling with Nom who is also using the visit to make a documentary about the town and its sacred sites, a young man who is a tourist guide at the very famous temple everyone is visiting, a chai-wallah and his young assistant. All around is the dust, the noise, the crowds of people, the colour of saris, the smell of spices, as the interactions between all these people unfolds. There isn't a great deal of plot, and the whole thing is really pretty grim, but as I say, the writing is gorgeous.


The theme of reading books that revolve around amnesia continues. Why I keep reading these books, I don't kow, but this is certainly one of the more interesting ones doing the rounds. Apparently it was a best seller in Italy, and the translation into English has also received loud and probably deserving praise. Because it is very beautiful to read, the language is very lyrical, the imagery is strong and memorable, and the actual plot line is terrific.

It is WWII, a man wakes up in a hospital bed in the Italian port city of Trieste, with no idea of who he is or how he got there. He has no language, no identity, no idea about anything at all. His doctor, an exiled Finnish neurosurgeon, thinks that he is Finnish, based on a jacket the man is wearing with the label Sampo Karjalainen in it. So the doctor assumes, understandably that the name matches the man. As part of Sampo's therapy, the doctor starts to teach him Finnish, and eventually the patient is shipped out to Helsinki where it is assumed he is from. It is not hard to feel sorry for Sampo as he spends the rest of the book trying to figure out who or what he is, and he finds his solace in learning the Finnish language, believing this is the key to a future. All of this in 186 pages. 

Unfortunately however for me, this excellent plot line never reached its full potential. Poor old Sampo  never figures out what is going on around him, he never really understands the language, his life never gets underway again, and all that we read about are the ravings of a Finnish priest who takes it upon himself to teach Sampo the language through the telling of Finnish myths and legends which is all tied up somehow in a symbolic way with the war, the Russians invading, and the conflicts within Finland. With all this in mind, the ending when it comes is hardly a surprise - just more confusion on top of an already confusing landscape. Yes, the writing is exquisite, but it is just not enough for me.  


She writes like a dream, does Rose Tremain. Short stories aren't normally my thing, but Rose Tremain writes novels as if she is magic so I took a punt that her short stories would be just as stunning. And this collection is. I am in awe as to the diversity of her stories and where she gets her ideas from - the arrival of Leo Tolstoy on his death bed at a in-the-middle-of-nowhere railway station; the real Mrs Danvers from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca; a woman farwelling her young child off to boarding school; an elderly couple deciding to run away; a man and his dog boarding kennels. Some of the stories are happy, others are sad, some disturbing. If there is any common thread or theme here, I am far too unanalytical to spot it or try finding it! Each story is carefully crafted, complete in its own way, some longer than others, some more memorable than others. And all showing a slice of life, a baring of the soul of the narrator. Just wonderful.

A GOD IN RUINS by Kate Atkinson

This writer, Kate Atkinson, just keeps getting better and better. Every novel she has had published I have read and enjoyed enormously. And she has done it all again with 'Life After Life' which I read exactly a year ago, and now this companion story to that one. 'Life After Life' told the what-if story of Ursula, born in England between the two great wars, and how her life unfolded or may have unfolded depending on if she took the left fork in the road or the right fork. This very clever and slick way of telling the story however does not detract from what the novel was acutally about - the appallingness of war on ordinary people, and in the case of the English ordinary person, the incredible stoicism/stiff upper lip/just get on with living attitude that prevailed.

The author continues this theme in this latest novel, which is primarily about Teddy, Ursula's younger brother, who becomes a Lancaster bomber pilot during the war, and then after it seeks to escape the merest suggestion of excitement by trying to live the quiet life. He marries his childhood sweetheart, Nancy, they have one child, the truly awful Viola, and she in turn has two children, Sunny and Bertie. I mention their names because as characters they have just as much of a story to tell as Teddy, and as the novel is about Teddy and his family, including his parents and siblings, really they should all be mentioned.

The story moves effortlessly between the years of Teddy's long life, with a number of different narrators as Teddy's life unfolds. As with Ursula's story, it is very clever narrative technique, and never once feels like it is losing itself. But the true marvel of this book is the writing about the war of a bomber pilot - essentially that every time you go flying you probably won't come back. The bibliography at the back of the book gives you an indication of the depth of knowledge the author has brought to her writing and the tragic waste of all life that occurs in wartime. The peacetime though, for many is no easier, and the reverence and grace with which Teddy's post war life is told is almost overwhelming.

I loved this very much, I didn't want it to end. If you haven't already done so, read 'Life After Life' first, then this one. Together they are just wonderful.  

THE YEAR OF FALLING by Janis Freegard

Falling - falling from grace, falling in love, falling out of love, falling over, falling down, falling apart, the harder you many quotes about falling, and they could all apply to the characters in this first novel from Wellington poet and short story writer Janis Freegard. Such a clever and simple idea to build a story around.
The lives in various stages of falling are those of two sisters, Selina and Smith. Their mother deserted them and their father when Selina was just a toddler and Smith was a teenager. Even though their father did the best job he could raising his daughters by himself, the absence of their mother has affected both girls in quite diverse ways over the years since.
Selina is now 29, a graphic designer working for an advertising company in Wellington city, single, living alone in a flat in Brooklyn on the property of her landlady, Quilla, a semi reclusive older woman with her own story to tell. Selina is, quite frankly, a bit of mess. She drinks too much, is unreliable in her work, recently broken up with her boyfriend, her much loved father and his wife are in the process of moving to Australia. At the same time as porcelain dolls begin turning up on her doorstep, she begins an affair with  a celebrity chef who not long afterwards disappears.
Smith, being somewhat older that than her sister, has never been able to move away from the surrogate role of mothering Selina. She has sacrified many opportunities in her life to look after Selina through her various issues, and is now living in Takaka in a house bus, part of a cooperative community, finally having found some peace in her life. Ever the carer, she is also caring for a young woman who is terminally ill, and the woman's nine year old son. With all this going on, she has taken it upon herself to also try and find her and Selina's mother.
Selina is the central character in the story, and well over half is told in her voice, with Smith and Quilla in alternating chapters. The characterisations are terrific, well rounded, flawed, trying to live a life and hold themselves together. We also get to see each character viewed through the eyes of the others which gives quite a different dimension to each woman. All three women and the minor characters all felt like real people - the likes of Selina could easily be in your workplace, and Quilla is instantly recognisable as the elderly neighbour living alone, keeping an eye on things.
The locations of the story also feature highly. Wellington in particular I enjoyed very much reading about, hailing from that city myself. I can see the winding streets of Brooklyn, the houses perched on the slope down off the road, or up steep driveways, the bush of the town belt as an ominous and slightly threatening backdrop. By contrast, the author writes about Takaka in a completely different way - the natural beauty of the place comes shining through, symbolic of being far better for one's mental and emotional health than Wellington. And for a place of complete difference and contrast - Iceland!
This is a story of searching for one's self, trying to identify and then hold onto the important things, and finding a place to call home whether it be a physical place or simply in your own head and heart. There is hope, forgiveness, joy and love. It is a wonderful story, I very much enjoyed reading it. I really hope this book gets widely read and promoted, because it certainly deserves to.