Until July 14th, I, and most people I know, had never heard of The Cuckoo’s Calling. Now, most of us own a copy and are reading it as quickly as we can. The revelation that J.K. Rowling is the author behind the pseudonym Robert Galbraith certainly shook up the world of books.
The reviews on the back of the book, written before the leak, are hilarious. It seems some of the reviewers were psychic. Mark Billingham says, “Cormoran Strike is an amazing creation and I can’t wait for his next outing. Strike is so instantly compelling that it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel…” Mike Cooper couldn’t have known how true his last sentence is, “Robert Galbraith’s debut is as hardbitten and hard-driving as its battered hero. CUCKOO’S CALLING scales the glittering heights of society even as it plumbs the dark depths of the human heart. A riveting read from an author to watch.”
For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with all the news, the leak was the friend of the wife of Rowling’s lawyer. The woman, Judith Callegari, posted the author’s true identity on Twitter. In a statement, Rowling expressed her anger at having been outed as The Cuckoo’s Calling‘s real author:
“To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I had assumed that I could expect total confidentiality from Russells, a reputable professional firm, and I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced.”
Needless to say, I’m glad I’m not Judith Callegari or Rowling’s (former) lawyer. How could you ever live down betraying the woman who created Harry Potter? Talk about shame. And public humiliation. You can read more about Rowling’s statement, as well as the law firm’s pathetic attempt to save-face, here
But I think the real question is: Why the charade? Publishing under the pseudonym resulted in sales that were microscopic in comparison to what Rowling could have gotten. Approximately 1500 copies of the book sold between April and mid-July. Since then, it’s risen to the top of every best-sellers list I’ve looked at.
Rowling insists that she was enjoying the anonymity, and it doesn’t seem as though she ever intended to announce her authorship, which is what fascinates me most. The pseudonym allowed her to prove that she could receive critical acclaim without her name slapped onto the front of her book. Though The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t selling all that well, the reviewers liked it. No one can say Robert Galbraith wouldn’t have found his way to best-seller-dom with book two or three or four. Maybe Rowling didn’t mind the idea of biding her time – after all, she doesn’t need the money.
The Guardian article, “JK Rowling tells story of alter ego Robert Galbraith
All the same, it’s a shame she didn’t get to reveal her identity on her own terms.
Even more shameful is what this whole scenario says about first-time authors. Despite solid reviews, The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t flying off the shelves. I’d never heard of it before, and I work in a book store. What does this say, then, about readers? What does it take for us to open a book and take a chance on something? I wish I could say I’d bought The Cuckoo’s Calling before I’d known who the author was. I wish I was a fan of Robert Galbraith’s and J.K. Rowling’s. Considering I haven’t read much crime fiction, there’s a good chance I’d have never picked up this book without knowing the truth of its authorship.
This saddens me. I’m reading the book now, and though I’m at the beginning, I can see that it is a great piece of fiction. Its tone is dry yet detailed. The characterization is remarkable and the premise unusual. The humor is clever and often grim (yes, grim humor). I would not know any of this if Judith Callegari hadn’t tweeted J.K. Rowling’s secret. Yet another Guardian article highlights the negative repercussions of Rowling’s “ruse” and the skewed views of the book world, which you can read here
Whatever Rowling’s motivations and expectations, one thing is undeniable: We’ll be seeing a lot of Robert Galbraith in the future. And I, personally, am happy about that. If you’re as interested as I am in this whole pseudonym thing, check out this post on Barnes and Noble’s Book Blog, “5 Authors Who Used Pseudonyms
Whatever you think of all this drama, I heartily recommend The Cuckoo’s Calling. If you’ve read it, what did you think of it?