The Silkworm: “Ack! My eyes!”

Having read and enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling, I bought The Silkworm on Thursday morning and finished reading it late last night. It’s an interesting book to read, as a writer, because it’s all about publishing industry politics. Owen Quine, the missing man whom Cormoran Strike is hired to track down, is a mostly unsuccessful novelist who has been way more trouble than he’s worth to everyone who has to work with him. The characters who come in to bend Strike’s ear about what may or may not have happened to Quine are either the missing man’s wife, Leonora, who hired Strike in the first place, or they’re involved in publishing, whether traditional or indie.

One of the characters under investigation is Quine’s mistress, a self-publishing writer named Kathryn Kent, and at first, I was a bit annoyed at Galbraith/Rowling for how she portrayed Kent. My attitude was basically: “That’s how you choose to portray a self-publisher? Really? Some of us write decent books and use appropriate grammar, you know!” But then I realized that The Silkworm was full of characters involved in publishing, and they’re all assholes. If I were a traditionally published author, I wouldn’t want to be represented as Owen Quine or Michael Fancourt. If I were a publisher, I wouldn’t want to be seen as Daniel Chard or Christian Fisher. I sure hope most literary agents aren’t nearly as unpleasant as Liz Tassel. The only character in the publishing world of The Silkworm who is both good at his job and a mostly decent person is the editor, Jerry Waldegrave, who is also a drunken train wreck. It’s like, nobody can be a part of the literary world for long without being either a shameless opportunist, a predator, an egotistical bigot, or a self-destructive mess. We go through all these unsympathetic characters, and then Strike and his assistant, Robin, take us for a sit-down with Kathryn Kent, and she seems like one of the least offensive of the lot.

Overall, I think what bugs me the most about the portrayal of Kathryn Kent is that the book shows us her blog posts word for word, with all their apostrophe abuse, random capitalization and cringe-inducing typos. Sure, there are plenty of people in the real world who do even worse than that and still manage to write books, but do we really need to see that from a writer who knows better? And a professional editor working for a major publishing house? When I buy a book to read, I expect it to be a refuge from sloppy typing, your/you’re confusion and apostrophes in plurals.

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