The Silkworm (Robert Galbraith, 2014)

The Silkworm: rainy-day fiction.

The Silkworm: rainy-day fiction.

Time off from The Curing of a Bibliomaniac is allowed, because my friend Sturdy lent me this alluring paperback and anything by J. K . Rowling, that is, Robert Galbraith, is essential reading.

 

 

My history as a crime junkie dates back to a time after I finished my uni degree, filled with postmodern literature, ye olde English literature, film theory, poetry, Shakespeare, Shakespeare in film, Australian fiction, Australian fiction in film, etc, etc.

This stuff was wicked, but it bruised my brain so severely that by the time I graduated I shuddered at the very sight of a Thinky Book.

Enter crime. The compulsive nature of crime serials by excellent authors such as Val McDermid, Colin Dexter, Lee Child, Ian Rankin and Frances Fyfield, to name but a few, served as a panacea to my aching soul, serving up quality reading material in a structure I could rely upon to be relatively unchanging.

Not THAT proud of my matching Colin Dexter collection, jeez.

Not THAT proud of my matching Colin Dexter collection, jeez.

 

Like a fool, I kept buying all kinds of books as well as these, hence large, slightly bibliomaniacal (is this a word?) collection of the unread. And the need for a cure. Hehehe. Searching for a cure for the unread. Get it?

 

 

But I digress. Suffice it to say that when a friend delivers a succulent new morsel such as this, I drop everything and snuggle down and say goodbye to society for a couple of days.

Silkworm did not disappoint – Galbraith’s writing is so deft and perceptive you can’t help but break into delighted smiles as you read, nodding in recognition, and sometimes even a giggle at some particularly incisive phrase.

The evocation of London is such that it makes you long to see it in front of you as Strike (central character, ex-soldier-turned private detective) does. Well, at least it was raining in Perth.

This is the second novel in the series, the first being The Cuckoo’s Calling, and as Sturdy says, there is some excellent character development in this instalment, with the promise of more to come.

The same thing struck me about Silkworm as The Cuckoo’s Calling: Galbraith inhabits diverse worlds with remarkable comfort, moving from poverty to riches, and detailing industries from fashion to publishing as though born to them.

This is a joy to read, a traditional, engrossing detective novel with everything it needs to be among the best in the genre: depth of character, tight plot, mood and style, with some deliciously shivery moments. It deserves to have real money spent on a physical book that takes up real space in your house.

If you’ll indulge me in a cringey metaphor, it’s more satisfying than a good meal, because generally after good food you feel a bit overfull and regretful, whereas this is a perfect portion that leaves you wanting more.

After continuing with How to Cure a Bibliomaniac, of course.

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All That I Am (Anna Funder, 2011)

I need to read a book about Nazi Germany like I need a hole in the head: my thoughts when I hear the latest book club title.

But I warm to it immediately as it opens with a trio of quotes, including a much-loved Nick Cave lyric:

Outside my window, the world has gone to war / are you the one that I’ve been waiting for?

Toller and Ruth alternate to tell of their group of friends’ story in the years leading up to World War II, as to the world outside Germany.

When Hitler assumes power, Ruth is in the bath. Her husband is mixing a mojito with his new lime-squasher. But as Hitler’s deadly intentions towards those who do not share his beliefs become quickly clear, the group take refuge in London.

Toller speaks in his London hotel room in 1939, as war begins, and Ruth from where she is living out the end of her days in modern Sydney.

They remember Dora, Toller’s lover and Ruth’s cousin. As Ruth’s strength and short-term memory decline, memories crowd in.

She and Toller reconstruct Dora, always driving action from the background – an anonymous correspondent, a translator, an information smuggler. Rarely is she the centre of attention.  Yet she is in the forefront always for Toller and Ruth.

It is the ones we love we remember most. We have grown to be who we are around them, as around a stake. And when the stake is gone?

I have never been a reader of non-fiction, but when I look back over this blog I see a newfound love of almost-true stories.

These tales have in common their gripping narratives, and this is no different; there is not a dull page.

There is the building sense of dread that comes with any account of Hitler’s misdeeds, so evil they are even now almost unbelievable – just as the British, harbouring the refugees, found them.

But it’s not this alone that compels. Ruth’s story is told at first in snatches, but becomes increasingly intense as she withdraws first to a hospital bed and then to her own mind, interrupted only by visits from doctors and her cleaner.

She pushes aside the curtain with a swoosh and there she is, a huffing, and puffing reminder of my other life, the outside one with biscuits and banter and sunshine walks.  

Ruth succumbs to this. The story is more real now to her, twisting and racing.

They have added something to the drip. It is collapsing time. I see things I have imagined so many times they are fact to me. And other things I have known without seeing.

The problem with life is that you can only live it blindly, in one direction. Memory has its own ideas; it snatches elements of story from whenever, tries to put them together. It comes back at you from all angles, with all that you later knew, and gives you the news.

Though it is a story of war, above all it is a story of people and of love, as the best histories always are.

We were the two for whom she was the sun. We moved in her orbit and the force of her kept us going.

One point: I don’t like its title or its cover. As one book club member suggested, it seems much like something a publisher would recommend Funder call it to attract the ladies’ market. I can’t really see the relevance of the title.

But the wishy-washy title and cover belie the book’s deadly seriousness, finesse and the author’s remarkable analytic and storytelling skill.

It is not for the faint of heart, but to those who want a story to make their pulse pound and their heart ache: this will not disappoint.