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First Thoughts on a First Read of The Running Grave
Elizabeth Baird-Hardy Reviews Strike7
I confess, I do not have the enviable levels of self-control exhibited by our Headmaster in his careful part-by-part reading, so I am now sharing my thoughts after my first fairly fast read. Although I did post my thoughts on Troubled Blood as I finished each section, I was still reading at a breakneck pace to find out what had happened to Margot Bamborough and to see how the brilliant Faerie Queene template matched up with our Denmark Street team. I must also confess, that though Nick and Evan both rank The Running Grave as their favorite installment so far, I do not share that reaction. Troubled Blood, for me, remains the best of the field, by a large margin. That being said, I have some thoughts on The Running Grave, although I am not yet ready to decide where it belongs in my ranking (I feel it will certainly be above The Silkworm and Career of Evil. I like each installment, and really like some elements, but I do play favorites). These are my thoughts based on a first, fast read (with a head start courtesy of those leaked chapters a few weeks back). Be warned, spoilers abound, as I hope most of our readers will have already finished the novel before reading my post. If not, come back and join me once you have made it all the way to page 960.
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Since these are just preliminary thoughts, I do expect to add much more in the way of my own posts and conversation with my brilliant colleagues here. In the meantime, I do want to ponder a few elements, including the fulfillment and frustration of observations based on those initial early chapters:
As we noted in the sneak preview posts about the pages that were released earlier, the color blue appeared to be playing a prominent role in this installment. It’s not surprising that blue is a dominant color at young Benjamin Herbert’s christening, including Robin’s dress and the cake, as blue is the traditional color associated with baby boys. Combined with the shocking pink dress of the lurid Bijou, we have the “usual” baby colors, an accurate preview of a story that features multiple story lines associated with parentage, birth, and babies: from Bijou’s efforts to use pregnancy as a weapon to secure what she wants to the numerous children fathered by “Papa J” (I finally stopped sniggering every time I saw the name, as, for me, that “papa” business and the frequent use of the color blue led to images of Papa Smurf).
As the novel continues and concludes, blue is an on-going theme. Robin’s blue hair is both a nod to Delphi in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as I noted earlier, and reminder that this color is important throughout the story.
Not coincidentally, when Robin makes her long-anticipated escape from Chapman Farm, she is wearing blue, even though she has been forced to take the blue coloring from her hair. With the shifting colors of tracksuits based on the UHC’s invented saints and their invented calendars, I am still working out a breakdown of the colors and their layers of story meaning, but it is certainly telling that the cycle has just switched from white to blue when Robin manages to (literally) escape the clutches of her captors. Not only does the royal blue tracksuit make her escape into the darkness much more effective than the white one that she was wearing just a few days earlier, but it also ties into the on-going blue theme and some great color cues that Rowling is working through the entire series.
Funny Names are the Game
Rowling, of course, never disappoints with the kooky collection of names. This is, after all, the person who created so many odd names in the Wizarding World that now, when anyone has an odd name, the general reaction is “That sounds like a name from Harry Potter!” In addition to names that are just plain peculiar, like Bijou, we have names that need to be read aloud for the joke to work. Just as in the Wizarding World, there are names that we really have to hear to get the full effect. I remember only truly understanding the Diagon Alley/Knockturn Alley joke when I read the Potter books aloud. Some of my favorites in The Running Grave include the fact that Mazu Wace sounds like a distorted version of “Amazing Grace,” rather like the effect if she were being addressed by a drunk or the Impressive Clergyman from The Princess Bride, he of the famous “Mawrige.” The last name Wace (which should rightfully belong to about a hundred people in this novel, considering the male Waces’ proclivities) probably is intended as “way-s”; however, we could use Roman pronunciation, and it would be pronounced “wacky.” This whole set-up is pretty whacked and wacky, so that discovery has been the source of quite a bit of amusement for me. Another possible pronunciation joke from Chapman Farm (and let’s face it, we need all the comic relief we can get from that horror show) comes from little Qing, who thankfully gets the much better name of her grandmother, the late Sally, by the end. While it’s probably meant to be pronounced “kwing,” I was amused by the reminder that, as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy makes clear, if the Brits know anything, they know how to queue, to line up, thus “queuing” is a specialty of the English, and there certainly is quite a bit of queueing up of people to be drawn in by the UHC’s flashy magic con job. In a cruder sense, people line up for those Retreat Room visits, too, and poor Qing, or Q-ing is a reminder of the results.
Her father’s name also has some great value; as a weak-willed person, it is funny his name is Will, and with the surname Edensor, there is the reminder that his quest for “Eden” has gone “so[u]r” and that he, and others, will be “sor[e]” over the goings-on at Chapman Farm.
There are plenty more name jokes, but those are my favorite so far.
I also find it interesting that we have another Kevin with a bad mother. Kevin Beattie’s mother, Janice, in Troubled Blood is exponentially smarter than Louise Pirbright (who at least escapes the fate of the Louise in Troubled Blood), but both of them create difficult childhoods for their Kevins. Kevin Beattie, though, manages to escape.
And, of course, no name discussion is complete until we mention another recycled name. Robin’s alias, Rowena, is not just a character in Ivanhoe. She is also a pivotal character in the Wizarding World, as all Ravenclaws know (and a raven crashes into the window right in front of Strike, just to make sure we get it). Rowena Ravenclaw is also a character whose daughter is an important ghost. The farm is “haunted,” of course, but not by the fakey saint shows of the UHC; rather it is a place where the bodies are literally buried, and terrible secrets are waiting to emerge. All good Ravenclaws will also remember that the House colors of Ravenclaw are bronze, and, of course, blue.
We all know by now that the language in these novels is not for the faint of heart (and yikes, there are plenty of “not-for-the-kiddies” moments in this installment), but, one of my very favorite moments in the novel is the great hat-tip to the overuse of some of those expletives when Strike informs the other agency members of Robin’s safety. Three of them in a row express their relief with that f-word that gets used as every single part of speech. Some of us get a little tired of that, and so Strike’s suggestion that “We get them all thesauruses for Christmas” had me snorting with laughter. Good call, Galbraith.
The one character who responds with concern instead of swears is Pat, the world’s greatest office manager, and I have to say, I think my very favorite part of the entire novel is Pat, plus getting to see the Chaunceys at home. Like Robin, most of us can agree that we love Pat. Those of us who have ever worked in an office, I fancy, really love her, because she reminds us of the best office managers we have known. Just as Umbridge is particularly chilling to those of us in education because we have all known or known of the monstrous administrator, Pat reminds us of those beloved staff members who might be a little crusty on the surface, but who are good as gold beneath. Pat and Dennis, despite the possible dig at C.S. Lewis Rowling is making with the name “Clive” for the duplicitous Littlejohn, have some strong Lewis overtones, as they are reminiscent both of the hospitable Beavers and the pragmatic Puddleglum. By opening their home to the shell-shocked Will and his daughter Qing upon their escape from Chapman Farm, the Chaunceys demonstrate true hospitality and charity, and their down-to-earth approach to life is the best balm to help Will de-program. I’m hoping to have some more fun with Dennis’s name, as that is a pretty bit of recycling, but he is also a brilliant counterbalance to the brainwashing of Chapman Farm. Like good old Puddleglum, he effectively pushes back against the wiles of those who want to “enchant” those who may not be strong enough to resist, kindly but firmly grounding Will by pointing out the tricks that fooled him.
I know we’ve just gotten this volume, but we can hope for our next installment before too long. After all, we sometimes have only a year-gap between volumes, although, as our comments on the gaffe thread note, that may be the reason for some of these gaffes. I have trouble producing the occasional post with limited errors, so I am sympathetic.
Looking forward to the next one, here are some of my hopes:
1. Robin correcting the error of her wedding by not heading off with Ryan. At the end, with that killer cliffhanger, Robin has the same choice she had on her wedding day: leave with the man she probably doesn’t love and who will probably try to restrict her from doing the job she does love with the man she now knows does love her. I still expect something will happen to Ryan that will lead to guilt from Strike and/or Robin, and perhaps create more obstacles between the partners.
2. More of the Chaunceys! Now that the cat is out of the bag about Pat’s age (which, as an American, I have to see as a not-large cat. I have co-workers that old, and older, who just enjoy working), and Dennis has proved he can know what’s going on, so I hope we’ll see more of them both.
3. Uncle Ted’s nursing home. In Troubled Blood, we saw two extremes of elder care, from the rich to the poor. I expect we’ll see the prospect of dementia dealt with as gracefully as we’ve seen cancer handled, so I’m curious about how that will proceed.
I hope you’ll join our conversations on the placeholder posts or below, with your own thoughts and hopes going forward!
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