Gail Alexander and Joel Julien
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The Cuckoo’s questions
In many ways, the victims are a sideshow in a detective novel. They’re out of the picture. So how does Lula Landry or Cuckoo measure up as the victim in JK Rowling’s novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, our current Sunday Arts Section (SAS) Book Club selection? Although readers must have some sympathy for the victim, the real stars are the investigator and his sidekick. In this case, Cormoran Strike, a war veteran with an amputated leg, and Robin Ellacott, his temporary secretary who just got engaged before she entered the detective business, make up the detective duo. Lula turns out to be a strange victim. First of all, Rowling keeps us guessing about her death. Did she take a 40-foot dive from her balcony or did someone push her? She’s not the most likeable character. Lula is a model who lived fast and furiously and hung out with quirky characters. She squandered many of her chances in life and didn’t deal well with fame.
Holding readers in limbo about Lula’s real demise—whether it was suicide or murder—creates many questions for readers.
1. Can readers blame Lula’s death on depression or rage? It’s all up in the air.
2. Was Lula’s curiosity about her past her downfall or did her relationship with a rapper lead to her demise?
3. When it comes to Lula, what exactly are we caring about as readers?
Wrapped up in this simple case of whether Lula jumped or not is Rowling’s take on fame.
1. Why didn’t fame and money save Lula?
2. How is it that fame seems to cause a downward spiral for so many stars? In this aspect, Rowling’s novel is art imitating life.
Equally baffling is Rowling’s take on Lula as a trendsetter, a woman of colour who makes people reconsider the concept of beauty. This is a bit odd because the concept of beauty has embraced women of colour for some time. Rowling dissects the relationships of her characters, who all seem to learn that fame and money don’t create happy or lasting relationships. She carries this theme a step further by exploring how the different characters try to find fulfilment in their jobs or careers. Money certainly isn’t the decisive factor when it comes to happiness. Generally, the writing itself is quite pedestrian, but sometimes Rowling’s writing surprises. Consider this sentence: “Strike was used to playing archaeologist among the ruins of people’s traumatised memories; he had made himself the confidant of thugs; he had bullied the terrified, baited the dangerous and laid traps for the cunning.” There’s no doubt about it: The Cuckoo’s Calling creates a gold mine of questions for book club readers.
1. How do you feel about the reaction of Matthew (Robin’s husband) to Robin’s job with Strike? Should Robin’s husband be more supportive?
2. What do you make of Rowling’s constant racial references in the novel?
3. Why does Strike have to be an amputee? How would the story have been different if he didn’t have a physical handicap? Does this physical handicap give Strike strength or piteousness?
4. Why does Rowling constantly refer to the pain Strike has in the stump of his leg? Does this matter to the story in any way?
5. Why doesn’t Rowling use Lula’s nickname, Cuckoo, more often in the novel?
Join us in the SAS Book Club group on Facebook to discuss The Cuckoo’s Calling.
Get ready for our next SAS Book Club choice in two weeks: The Dream of the Celt, by Peruvian Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.
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