Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Cuckoo's Calling // Curing My Author Hangover

We are all familiar with having a book hangover.

You know ... and then when you do start a new book, you just can't stop comparing it to the previous book, and it suffers because of it. You are unfair to that new book. If you'd read it any other time, you'd have really enjoyed it. But it doesn't live up to the beautiful, genius, earth-shattering book you just read. 

But I'd like to go a step further from book hangovers. Do you ever get an author hangover?

What I mean is this. You've read a marvellous book by a particular author ... and then you're scared to go on. They've written other books. You buy them, maybe, add them to their TBR; you say, when talking about the aforesaid marvellous book, "Oh, I must read something else he/she has written!" But you don't. Because you're afraid.

You're afraid that it will never be as good. You're afraid you'll be disappointed. What if your view of that author is clouded? They are inexorably tied up with a book you love -- you don't want to have to untangle them. How could the author of your favourite book also be the author of another book you don't enjoy?

EXAMPLE: The first book of Tracy Chevalier's that I read was Girl With a Pearl Earring. It is absolutely beautiful and wonderful and I love it - on of my favourites. I subsequently read Falling Angels and Remarkable Creatures -- and were they enjoyable? Did they have any of what Girl had? 

No. No they did not. 

I've not read any more Chevalier, and I don't think I want to. In my mind she is no longer a wonderful author on a pedestal; she's just a woman vaguely connected to Girl With a Pearl Earring, but not actually, in my opinion, a brilliant writer. 

I worry about this happening again.

Specifically, with JK Rowling.

You don't have to have followed me for three years to know that I love Harry Potter deeply, passionately, transcendingly, enduringly. I return to them again and again. Plot, character, mood - all is perfect. I don't have a favourite book ... but if you twisted my arm, it has to come back to Harry.

I knew that JKR had written other books - The Casual Vacancy, and some crime fiction - and I bought The Cuckoo's Calling secondhand. 

But honestly? I was afraid to read it.

How could anything, ever, compare to Harry? Could I handle not liking a book of JKR's? I just wasn't sure. But now (and this is the longest intro to a review post I've ever written, so sorry about that), my fears are assuaged. 

When the world's most sought after, publicised celebrity falls to her death on a snowy night in London, the world views it as a tragic suicide: a young girl pushed by the pressure and the media to take her own life. But the bereaved relatives she has left behind are unconvinced, and seek the help of a private detective.

Robin Ellacott, newly engaged and a month living in London, takes a temping job not expecting to find herself working as the secretary of a private detective. But Cormoran Strike, an ex-soldier with his own demons, is her new employer, and soon she finds herself swept up in the case of dead model Lula Landry. With Strike, Robin embarks upon an investigation to ascertain whether Landry's suicide was all that it seems. 

I absolutely loved this book.

I'll just say that straight up. It was utterly brilliant. From the prologue I was gripped; I read all of it, nearly 500 pages, in about 3 days, which says something (I can take months to read a book). It was just that good.

I was, of course, mentally slapping myself throughout at ever having doubted JKR. I recognised a lot from the well-loved Harry Potter series: the clean, interesting writing, that neither wallows in unnecessary description nor panders to the modern desire for a short-sentenced, journalistic style. The three-dimensional characters, each with their own story. The perfect plot.

JK Rowling is a wonderful storyteller. That's why we all love Harry so much; the plot of each book picks you up and carries you away on its inexorable tide. The Cuckoo's Calling was exactly the same: this incredible narrative, with a plot that folded out from strand and strand of the storyline. I don't read much crime fiction so I'm not well-versed in the genre, but I'm sure this was a top-end example. It kept me guessing until the very end!
I loved the way in which the past and the present entwined in the story. On the one hand, we see the plot through Robin's eyes and are caught up in the here and now, with the investigation of Landry's death. But we are also learning, slowly, more and more about Strike, who has a mysterious past that is revealed bit by bit. Even now, at the end of this first book in the series, there is a lot left unsaid.

The characterisation was, frankly, perfect. Robin was supremely likeable; she was smart and intuitive, and she had an enthusiasm for the job, a secret joy in the detective work. Cormoran Strike, meanwhile, was an absolutely brilliant character - one of the best I've read this year. He was stoical; he kept going, not complaining about the demons looming from the past. He didn't fit the stereotype of the cool, sharp, BBC Sherlock, James Bond-esque detective/spy; he was a fresh and excellent character. I loved him.

The book left me: engrossed in its world, with an intensity that I'd expect from a fantasy novel; slavering for the next one (The Silkworm); and amazed that I'd waited so long to read it. You know those Best Books lists we make at the end of the year? The Cuckoo's Calling will be featuring. It has cured me of my JKR hangover. No, it wasn't Harry. But nothing is Harry. The Cuckoo's Calling was gripping, superbly characterised and full of the plot twists and turns of a master. An absolutely top notch read. 

Do you, too, suffer from author hangovers? Anything you're too scared to read, in case it ruins your favourite author for you?

Emily x


  1. Oh YAY, so glad to hear you gave this one a shot!! It's totally not my usual kind of read either, but of course I needed to read it because it's Jo - how could I not? I completely agree with your praise for it. She really is a brilliant storyteller! Now if you're brave, you can move on to The Casual Vacancy. I personally loved it and found it to be so profoundly memorable and poignant, but I'm def in the minority with that opinion... I still highly recommend it as all of Jo's signature writing traits that you found in this one are present in The Casual Vacancy as well. But first, on to The Silkworm, which is also fantastic! The third Cormoran Strike book is coming out later this year, I believe.

    1. I have The Casual Vacancy so I will definitely read it. I feel more confident at this point, post-Cuckoo's Calling. Her writing and storytelling is just so good!!
      I'm very excited for The Silkworm, and book three.

  2. Yay! I'm glad you liked it! I enjoyed The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm way more than The Casual Vacancy. Personally, I found CV to be trying to hard to break from the children's genre of HP. It was well written, but I felt like JKR had something to prove when she wrote it.

    That being said, you're in luck, because I found The Silkworm to be EVEN BETTER than Cuckoo's Calling. It gets deeper into Cormoran and Robin's characters, which is so great. I can't wait for the next one!

    1. I've heard this from several people, about the point-proving thing in particular. I suppose that's part of the reason she chose the Galbraith pseudonym (apart from the sexism still prevalent in the publishing world) - to disassociate herself from HP and TCV.

      Brilliant!! I'M SO EXCITED!

  3. This book sounds awesome! I love a good mystery. I think I've seen this somewhere too. I'm going to have to read it this summer! I told the librarian I would join the adult summer reading program. Our little town is collaborating to read a total of 1,000 books this summer. That seems like a low goal to me, for a whole town. . . but I must be mistaken since they've conducted the reading program before.

    I'm not sure I've had an author hangover. The most I usually read from one author is the series, in which case I want to know what happens next. So the suspense keeps me reading. Though I will have to say, that after Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, I had high hopes for Mansfield Park. But I couldn't make it through. I read about a third of it and nothing was happening! It made me really sad, because I love Jane Austen.

    1. It's absolutely brilliant. I would 110% recommend it. Do your bit for your town! XD

      Yes. The author hangover doesn't really work with series, because of course you want to keep reading. But it's different when there's more than one series, or standalone novels. I've not read Mansfield Park yet, though I did experience an Austen disappointment with Persuasion! After P&P, and then Emma (my absolute favourite), and then Sense and Sensibility (also wonderful) I was expected to really love Persuasion ... and I didn't. Which was so so sad. I'll reread it one day, though, and maybe I'll feel differently.


Thanks for commenting! :)