Friday, July 19, 2013

Reviewer Review: The Corrigan versus the Cormoran

From Mullholland
The Cuckoo's Calling
By J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith
(Mulholland Books)

Only Surprise in Rowling's 'Cuckoo's Calling' is the Author 
By Maureen Corrigan

     As you've probably heard by now, J.K. Rowling has written a second non-Harry Potter novel, this time a mystery, The Cuckoo's Calling, featuring detective Cormoran Strike, and this time under a pseudonym. It received some good reviews as by Robert Galbraith, but now it's being reviewed by reviewers as by Rowling. 
     The first I've seen is by Maureen Corrigan, a regular reviewer for NPR's Fresh Air and The Washington Post, and she finds it wanting. Not only that, she takes deep umbrage that she's been forced to read and review such a substandard work. She makes snarky comments about Rowling laughing all the way to the vault (a Harry Potter reference! Isn't Corrigan smart and clever? Much cleverer than Rowling who took her title from a poem by Christina Rossetti rather than from one of the best-selling children's book series of all time). 
     First, Rowling doesn't need the money, and didn't want the book to be identified with her precisely because of snotty critics like Corrigan. She wanted to see, I think, whether she could sell books and please herself and readers without trading on the currency of her name, or dealing with the matching prejudices caused by the association. I believe Stephen King had a similar conceit in mind when he adopted the Richard Bachman pen name.

     Despite all that, the secret got out, and Corrigan resents it, apparently. Rather than take out her frustration on her employers -- who presumably asked her to review it -- or on herself -- for deciding to read it -- she takes it out on Rowling.
     (Corrigan also derides a positive review of the book for using the cliche "a stellar debut," then -- in the same sentence -- herself uses the cliche "deader than a firecracker stand on the a rainy Fifth of July." Maybe she was using her cliche ironically?)

     Corrigan also resorts to a form of reviewer abuse: recommending a "better" novel with a tangentially related plot. That neglects the fact that most of the people now reading the book (including Corrigan; she makes a point of having given away her reviewer's copy unread, and downloading an e-book version because she couldn't wait for the hardcover) are reading it primarily because it's written by Rowling, not because it's a mystery. I doubt the author of the other mystery would appreciate the comparison or her recommendation in this instance. 
     I haven't read the book, and may not. If I do, and don't like it, I won't bore you with an attack on Rowling's character. I have occasionally attacked an author's character based on the difference between what they do and what they say, or on sleazy behavior, but not just because I don't like a book. If it's a non-fiction book, and I feel that the facts have even played loose with malicious intent, then a personal attack could be justified. The only justifications I can think of for Corrigan's behavior in this instance is that she believes Rowling, seeing sales of the book stall at 1,500 copies, decided to leak her authorship to boost sales (unlikely since, as already noted, Rowling doesn't need the money; the publisher might have felt differently though, if they didn't mind offending their superstar author), or because -- as another blogger recently wrote in defense of her blog style -- she feels her abrasive personality makes her memorable. 
     Read or don't read The Cuckoo's Calling, like it or don't like it, but review the book, not the author or the circumstances that led to you reading it.


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