Perhaps what is most interesting about J.K. Rowling’s second book under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith is her exploration of a topic she knows too well: the world of writing and publishing. In an intricate whodunit tale, Rowling capitalizes on all she knows of her industry, depicting writers both terrible and successful, and the treachery within their profession.
In the latest volume of the Cormoran Strike saga, the detective is on the case of a missing author, recently accused or writing a libelous, “fictional” piece of work about his publisher and a fellow author, among others. Owen Quine, the author (and a strange man who frequently wears capes and absurd hats), seems to have angered everyone in the publishing world.
Through this case, Rowling explores modern avenues of self-publishing, blogging and self-promotion. By questioning the merits of these forms, as well as the roles of agents, publishers, and fellow authors, Rowling touches a deep nerve in the writing community — the very structure of the system that determines what is worthy of being considered “literature” or at the very least, an example of quality writing and an art form. The title too is a nod to the pain that a silkworm suffers to produce silk — a reference perhaps to the process of writing, thereby producing great works of art.
Yet surrounding all these hefty topics remains Rowling’s undeniably entertaining thread of characters and plot twists. The novel feels like a traditional British crime tale, albeit set in the modern day (in fact, it sometimes surprised me that characters used computers, iPads, the internet). Like a well-worn tale from a bygone era, The Silkworm carries a sense of nostalgia for what writing used to be, and for what books have meant.
Although Strike is reminiscent of a certain genre of detectives, he also surprises. It is through him that Rowling mulls over the complexity of fame, the disappointments of marriage and relationships, and the increasing rarity of privacy.
Knowing Rowling wrote the novel did make me more forgiving of the times when the plot seemed repetitive or when the book seemed to go on too long. But remembering that Rowling writes under this pseudonym also reminds me as a writer that this is her exploration of traditional form in a modern context, and that in itself is something I can always appreciate.
As I read The Silkworm, I couldn’t help but think of Cormoran Strike’s nights alone contemplating case after obscure case in his office and accompanying attic apartment. This tomato bisque is just the thing for a light dinner alone (paired with toasty grilled cheese sandwich, of course). Like the book, it is layered with subtle flavors and hints of just what might be lurking behind the seemingly obvious surface.
CREAMY TOMATO BISQUE FOR ONE
(May be doubled, tripled, etc. to serve more than one person)
- 2 tomatoes on the vine, halved
- 1/4 onion
- 3 to 4 cloves of garlic (skin on)
- Basil (fresh or dried)
- Italian seasoning
- Olive oil
- A piece of crusty bread
- Parmesan cheese (optional)
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Grease a baking sheet or pan.
Place halved tomatoes and skin-on garlic cloves on the baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil. Place onion on the same baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Bake for 20 minutes (until roasted).
Remove vegetables from oven and peel garlic cloves.
Blend roasted garlic, onion, tomato, and seasoning (Italian, salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil) in blender or food processor until smooth.
Add water as needed to adjust thickness of bisque, if desired.
Pour bisque into a bowl. Sprinkle parmesan cheese and a crushed piece of crusty bread (I used French bread) over the bisque.
Serve immediately, but if you want to make more than one cup or save some for later, this soup can also be refrigerated and then reheated on the stove or in the microwave as needed.