Monday, July 29, 2013

The Cuckoo’s Calling: Cormoran Strike # 1

Before the news about J.K. Rowling writing a crime-detective novel under pseudonym Robert Galbraith leaked, I didn’t have any idea about this book. But, the combination of ‘crime-detective’ and ‘J.K. Rowling effect’ has instantly tickled my curiosity. Years ago, before delving into classics and literary fiction, crime-detective has been my passion—Agatha Christie was my first acquaintance with adult fiction. So, knowing that J.K. Rowling writes a crime novel, I knew right away that it would have been a combination of detective investigation and psychological conflict of the characters, just like Agatha Christie. But, knowing J.K. Rowling now too well, I also guessed that the characters and the conflicts would be much more livid than Agatha Christie’s. Not only that my prediction turned out to be quite accurate, J.K. Rowling slipped another surprise at the end too!

Lula Landry (sounds too similar with Luna Lovegood, eh?) is a celebrated young model; she is half black and adopted by a rich white family. One night she fell from the third floor balcony of her apartment. Considering her problematic background, testimonies and several evidences, the police, the press, and even most of her adopted family have concluded that it was a suicide. Everyone but John Bristow, a lawyer, Lula’s adopted brother.

Far from being celebrated, Cormoran Strike is a war veteran who—although the son of a celebrity—chooses to build his own career as a private detective. He is on the verge of collapse—with zero prospective client, and not even a residence—before colliding (literally) with a pretty secretary named Robin Ellacott, a temporary secretary whom Cormoran could not afford to pay. However, five minutes after Robin sits on her new desk at her new office, a client comes bringing a solid case. Of course, it is John Bristow, bringing the case of Lula Landry’s death, which he believes is a murder.

I don’t know exactly how I should describe this novel, other than…I just love it! It is very “Rowling”—if you know what I mean. It’s not like Agatha Christie, whose crime fictions are pure crime and detective stories, with a trace of psychological analysis aspect (especially in Poirot’s). With Rowling, we know she has never been focusing in one genre in particular. Harry Potter—after we finished reading the series—turns out to be a story about human nature; what one would have become when he grows up is determined not only by society, but more importantly by his own choices. We call it fantasy novel, but the fantasy is merely the setting.

The same thing applies with The Cuckoo’s Calling. If you are a fan of crime-detective stories (hi there, Sherlockians!..), you might find this Cormoran Strike bloke far away from what an ideal detective would be. I myself am quite disappointed with his records. Strike is not a superhero, he has too many weaknesses, he’s not even charming (far from that!). I even find Strike’s method is similar to Hercule Poirot’s methodical order; letting every one talking, taking seriously every small evidences, and put them all to complete a puzzle. Yes, I tasted a bit of Agatha Christie here, and so there’s nothing new in it.

But more than that, Strike is very humane. And this is what I love from this book. It’s not just about Strike’s investigation of the case, it’s also about Strike’s own struggles to be released from his past, and to rearrange his life. Although Rowling doesn’t give too much portion to Robin here, she is also in search of her own life. I predict that in the next series, she would be much wiser to make the right decision of her future. And I very much hope that she would not be like Batman’s Robin who appears only in a few stories. I really like her intellectual (another Hermione??) and her interest in detective works; while besides that, she is just an ordinary girl who likes beautiful dresses, and gets up-to-date with celebrities news. Yes, I like someone ordinary who has a unique interest that makes her distinguish from others.

*spoiler alert* And I am very curious of this boss-secretary relationship, would Rowling keep those sparks of attraction between them in the next series?... *spoiler ends*

Last but not least, Rowling’s surprise at the ending makes this novel becomes more than just a detective story. I might even say, it is a literary novel with crime-detective theme. Near the end of the story, ‘who the murderer is’ is no longer important for me, because I am much more touched by what happens in our own society. How often it is, that people put judgment to other just because of our backgrounds. It’s like: if you come from certain background, you must have the typical bad qualities that others from your ‘kind’ share. So, if something bad happen to you, well….it’s just that, no one surprised, and you just deserve that. Luckily, there are sometimes people like Strike, who comes from a high background, but has enough wisdom and conscience to seek only the truth. So, in a way, Strike is a new hero!

Five stars for the first title in the Cormoran Strike series, and I would wait patiently for the second title Rowling will write; because you know….the long waiting would be much worth in the end!


*I read e-book version*

*This book is counted for:*

6th book for 2013 TBRR Pile Mystery Reading Challenge

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Scene on Three (1): The Cuckoo’s Calling

This is my first participation in Bzee’s new blog meme: Scene on Three, where we are supposed to capture interesting passages from our readings. I have just finished J.K. Rowling’s first crime story (under pseudonym of Robert Galbraith): The Cuckoo’s Calling few days ago. It’s about the investigation of the death of Lula Landry, a young celebrated model; she falls from the balcony of her apartment and dies instantly.

The scene I am featuring here is taken from Cormoran Strike’s perspective (the private detective who investigates the case), in which he tries to imagine what Lula must have been feeling or thinking during the last seconds of her life.

“The seconds it took her to fall through the air towards the concrete, smothered in its deceptively soft covering of snow, must have seemed to last an eternity. She had flailed, trying to find handholds in the merciless empty air; and then, without time to make amends, to explain, to bequeath or to apologize, without any of the luxuries permitted those who are given notice of their impending demise, she had broken on the road.”

And indeed, when watching fall scenes (which lead to death), I often wonder, what the person might have been thinking, knowing that (s)he only have few seconds to live. In those last seconds, what would have emerged in their thoughts? Is it fear? Is it remorse? Is it regret? No one knows, and no one would ever tell us.... But maybe the truth is as J.K. Rowling writes here, it’s so surprising that one won’t have time to think about anything. And what a tragedy it is, that one is deprived from preparing for his/her own death!

Jadi bagaimana cara berpartisipasi dalam Scene on Three :

  • Tuliskan suatu adegan atau deskripsi pemandangan/manusia/situasi/kota dan sebagainya ke dalam suatu post.
  • Jelaskan mengapa adegan atau deskripsi itu menarik, menurut versi kalian masing-masing.
  • Jangan lupa cantumkan button Scene on Three di dalam post dengan link menuju blog Bacaan B.Zee.
  • Masukkan link post kalian ke link tools yang ada di bawah post Bacaan B.Zee, sekalian saling mengunjungi sesama peserta Scene on Three.
  • Meme ini diadakan setiap tanggal yang mengandung angka tiga, sesuai dengan ketersediaan tanggal di bulan tersebut (tanggal 3, 13, 23, 30, dan 31).

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Orange Girl (Gadis Jeruk) by Jostein Gaarder

Georg Røed is a teenager who lives in Oslo, Norway, with his mother and stepfather. His own father died when he was three and a half years old, and Georg has only a vague memory about him. One day, when he is fifteen years old, his grandmother finds an old envelope in the storeroom. It appears to be a letter written by Jan Olav, Georg’s father, eleven years ago, addressed to his son! The letter appears to be not just an ordinary letter, it is a legacy. A legacy of life lessons. In that bundle of computer-printed papers, Jan Olav left very valuable life lessons taken from his own short life. Jan Olav wrote that letter weeks before his death, and now Georg is sitting in his bedroom to read it for a whole day. Little does he know that that letter, that day, would change his whole life!

So, just like Jostein Gaarder’s other books, this is also a story within story (or you can call it a letter within a book); a story about philosophy of life.

When he was twenty years old, Jan Olav was a Medicine college student. One day in a tram (it was around 1970s), he saw an attractive girl standing in the aisle while hugging a large paper bag full of oranges. Maybe that’s what we call ‘love at first sight’, because right at that moment Jan was attracted to that mysterious girl whom he later called ‘The Orange Girl’. In a little accident caused by his clumsiness, the Orange Girl left the tram before Jan Olav had even time to say anything more than “Sorry”.

After that incident, Jan Olav was kind of obsessed to the Orange Girl. He spent a lot of time searching for her; he even satisfied his hunger for facts about the girl’s identity by inventing dozen stories that might be applied to a girl who wears an orange anorak, carries a bag full of oranges. Jan Olav hung around at the fruit market, and even spied an orange stall there, hoping that the Orange Girl might stop by to buy supplies of oranges. So great was his obsession, that sometimes, the Orange Girl seemed to be for Jan Olav a fantastic tale. A tale which, if he did something wrong, the whole bubble of his hope to meet her again would be bursting at once.

Until now you might think—Georg thinks the same way too—that Jan Olav was just telling him how he ever met Georg’s mother, and the whole letter was just a romance story after all. But no… From the beginning—and scattered in the whole story to the end—Jan Olav sprinkled questions and reflections about life, about human’s existence, and those kinds of philosophical ideas. Even from the opening, Jan Olav has slipped his queer interest about Hubble Space Telescope. What is the connection between the mysterious Orange Girl and Hubble Space Telescope? And what does all of that have to do with life lessons?

As I have learned the best way to read Jostein Gaarder from experience—I have so far read Sophie’s World, Solitaire Mystery, Through A Glass, Darkly, and Maya—I have anticipated from the beginning that queer things would appear along the story; these sprinkles of philosophical thoughts Gaarder used to slip within the stories. So, I have prepared to scribble notes of my ideas on the book leaves’ margin whenever I feel Gaarder is telling me something. Here are the ideas (and sometimes questions) I gathered from beginning to end, let’s analyze whether they would unveil something about what this book is really telling us.

Existence – time – parallel – soul – reality vs existence – two realities – living imagination – unique creation – playful life vs meaningful life – life’s rules and consequences – why orange, why Sevilla? – life is tale – we are part of the universe – Hubble Space Telescope reads us like we read this book.
Do they all make any sense to you? Haha! Let me call it a puzzle of my thoughts. So, reading Gaarder is always like this; his books require high concentration but they are challenging too, it’s like putting pieces of a puzzle in the right place, then voila! And when you could reveal what he meant at the end, it would be like winning a prize! Because Gaarder always teaches us how life is valuable, how being a human is priceless. But if you couldn’t get the whole meaning, then….you probably need to reread it NOT as a fiction, but as a philosophy lesson enveloped by a fiction. Because that is how Gaarder writes his books.

So, what is this book about? Jan Olav left an essential question for Georg at the end of his letter, asking Georg to take time to reflect and answer it, because the answer would influence his future life as an adult. This is also an essential question for us as an adult that Gaarder wants us to reflect after we finish the book. If you intend to read this book and find out yourself the question and meaning, you might want to skip the following paragraph. *spoiler alert*

The big question is (borrowing the Bard’s line): “To live or not to live.” Gaarder supposes our lives in the universe as a lot of different tales in a book. Combining my above puzzle-of-my-thoughts with my reflection, I think Gaarder wants us to reflect our ‘existence’ in the universe. Let us just take a leave from our daily routines and watch or follow our own existences like we read a tale, instead of being the characters in the tale. The characters only exist in their own world, while for us, the characters are just small trivial in our much wider scope of life. Gaarder picks Hubble Space Telescope, the Eye of Universe, as an example, because it can capture images from the whole universe, not only our earth, but also other galaxies million light years from the earth. We need to realize where we, human, stand before our Creator. We are like tiny sands in a long beach, yet we were each uniquely created by God. What Gaarder wants us to answer is: if life is as short as tale, if we were to live only in a short period of time, then…is it really worth to have it? If we can choose before we were born, what will we choose: to live or not to live? Or to put it simpler: is life worth to live? *spoiler ends*

I think Gaarder is really smart in crafting his story. Throughout the story he slips that big question, but on the other hand, he also shows us the answer. If we really read this deeply, we would be able to answer his question confidently right after reading; if we haven’t been reflecting enough about this most important aspect of life—to live or not to live…..

Five whole stars for The Orange Girl, another brilliant work from Jostein Gaarder!

*I read Mizan Indonesian translated edition (Gadis Jeruk)*

This book is counted for: