Rowling's Silkworm tackles publishing old and new

Rowling's Silkworm tackles publishing old and new

The world of publishing is explored in J K Rowling’s second Robert Galbraith novel The Silkworm (19th June), with The Bookseller magazine itself getting a mention in the plot.

The novel, for which review copies were sent out yesterday (11th),  sees private detective Cormoran Strike hired to investigate the case of missing novelist Owen Quine, who has disappeared after the manuscript of his latest book, a roman a clef, generates outrage by skewering those in the literary world, including his publisher and agent.

Rowling has Strike attend a party at Roper Chard, a publishing firm created from the merger two old firms, Roper Publishing and Chard Books. The company’s offices are based close to the Strand and the company’s name on its building are “picked on in shining orange Perspex across the stonework”. Roper Chard’s c.e.o. opines “that publishing is currently undergoing a period of rapid changes and fresh challenges, but one thing remains as true today as it was a century ago: content is king”.

The novel, set during the time of the Cornwall floods in 2010, also sees Strike visiting Quine’s literary agent, Liz Tassel, a chain-smoker whose Goodge Street office, smelling "of cigarettes and old dog", displays “aged elegance” which is “slowly disintegrating into shabbiness”. Strike has to remove “a stack of papers and old copies of The Bookseller” from a chair in Tassel’s office before sitting down.

Meanwhile also featuring is a self-published author whose blog is described by Strike’s assistant Robin as being mainly about how “traditional publishers wouldn’t know good books if they were hit over the head with them”. The character, Kathryn Kent, has written three novels in an erotic fantasy series on Kindle and at one point criticises traditional publishers who “don’t want to take a chance on something that hasn’t been seen before, it’s all about what fits their sales categories, and if you’re blending several genres, if you’re creating something entirely new, they’re afraid to take a chance”.

Rowling good-humouredly mocks some publishing traditions – at one point Strike notes that “they love their bloody lunches, book people” – but also comments on the view of writing as a solitary, selfish profession, with one character saying writers “are a savage breed”.

“If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill,” he continues. “If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.”

But Rowling also addresses politics in the novel, following on from a post on her website revealing her views on Scottish independence and observing that she was “no fan of the current Westminster government”. In The Silkworm, she criticises the government’s decision to cut legal aid, deeming Kenneth Clarke, then the justice secretary, a “florid, paunchy man”.

Strike seems to be in better condition than he was in The Cuckoo’s Calling, now living in a flat above his office, but Robin, his beautiful assistant, seems to be having trouble in her relationship with her fiancé Matthew. Strike and Matthew’s first meeting goes badly, putting a strain on Robin’s relationship with both men.

The Telegraph was first off the mark with a review, calling The Silkworm a “damn good read” and giving it five stars, while a four-star review in the Independent said it was a “tightly stitched updating of the classic tale of the dishevelled but brilliant private dick”.