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Running Grave Excerpt Published on Amazon
First Thoughts about the First Six Chapters of Strike 7
Yesterday, the first six chapters of Running Grave were published via the 'Look Inside' feature of the book's page on Amazon.com. The Rowling Library has posted the pages as a pdf and created a forum for those wanting to discuss the revelations. If you wish to remain spoiler free until the day of actual publication, you'll want to steer clear of those pages and all of what follows. Farewell to those heading to the exits — and apologies if sending you this news and commentary is a temptation in your in-box that you didn’t need!
I have seven questions consequent to a late-night reading of the excerpts which questions I post below with my very tentative answers for anyone interested. I have invited my colleagues here to check in with their own perspectives if they are so inclined.
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Without further ado, then, here are my seven Running Grave excerpt questions and off-the-top-of-my-head answers:
Do you think Rowling, Inc., meant for Amazon to release the first fifty-three pages of text this way? Was it Troubled Blood that had an unintentional big drop via Apple in a similar 'mistake'? Or is this just super clever marketing, a 'found treasure'?
Nick Jeffery has compiled a chart that is virtually John-proof of all the release dates for Strike novels since Career of Evil.
I vaguely remember that Rowling's publishers were at war with Amazon years ago; could this move have been made by Amazon without the publisher's permission? That seems like an extraordinarily bold move if the publishing Goliath did this. I can’t think of anything that would disrupt the well-laid marketing plans of a publisher more than this kind of release if unexpected and unwanted.
I think it much more likely that Amazon and Mulholland worked together to create this ‘surprise’ for fans which drives buyers to the Amazon sales page. Advanced or pre-publication sales have not been great for Running Grave, at least with respect to previous Rowling releases; Strike7 is currently at #459 in books at Amazon which I suspect puts it well below all her other titles.
Note from Nick’s brilliant chart, too, that we are 47 days from publication, much more than twice the time that any of the recent books have been excerpted and released to prime the marketing pump. The size and timing of this pre-publication release suggests either that the Mulholland gang are getting better at their advance marketing or that their pulling out all the stops to prompt sales in a fading franchise.
There's no Dylan Thomas epigraph, just I Ching related pieces; what happened?
I thought at first that Rowling-Galbraith may have been asking us to focus on the Oracle quality of the story and its supernatural content by cutting out the Thomas epigraph. A quick check of the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ page, though, reveals that the page on which the missing epigraph would have appeared fell into the only ‘This is a sample; the number of pages displayed is limited’ crease in the excerpt. Maybe the agreement with the Thomas estate didn’t include the use of the quotation in marketing?
The novel begins with an epistolary montage of letters between a distraught family, lawyers, the disaffected son, and the anti-cult survivor. What did you think of it as a story-starter? It's been a while since we had the case presented so forcefully in the opening -- since Cuckoo?
We get a waterfall of information in an ingenious syuzhet format that requires the reader to piece together what is happening without any connecting narrative (Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone, anyone?). I confess what most interested me was the failed commune, I assume it was the location of Strike's nightmare though the fragment we have does not include his making that connection, and the new successful Bahai-esque super-ecumenical religion cum charity (a strong Scientology feel, no, with the celebrities and intimidation tactics via Barracuda Barristers?). I loved it — super-engaging, brilliantly executed, and a running start for Running Grave.
What do you make of the baptism reception for Robin and Strike's first appearance?
I thought of Strike at Aunt Joan's funeral reception in Troubled Blood for the first several paragraphs, but I'm enjoying the idea of the two partners being co-celebrants at a church function in which they bind themselves together via child for life. Not nuptials, but as close as you can get by suggestion and still be in church. And the renouncing of Satan both do -- what a hoot!
If you’d been told that Strike7 started at the reception following a church service at which Robin and Cormoran took vows of life-long fidelity, would you have guessed a baptism? I suppose if we’d been told they spat on the Evil One in renunciation, we would have guessed.
I have to think this is a strong marker that we have begun the alchemical albedo, the ablutionary and purgatorial experience of the series, which lines up brilliantly with Evan Willis’ ideas of the ten-book structure for the series.
Egad, The Universal Humanitarian Church or UHC! Would you, could you have guessed the first religious target of Rowling's treatment would be a group like this?
I imagined after reading the synopsis that Rowling's target would be a traditional Christian Church cult; instead, it seems a fairly transparent attack on non-denominational, fruit-loop spirituality with remarkable asceticism and generosity required of converts, not so much for leadership. Again, the documents and the story of Kevin the Survivor -- who is murdered -- reek of Scientology and the like, very little of Christian fundamentalism.
Nick Jeffrey has written on the moderator channels that a good bet for Rowling’s model is the Jesus Army, a UK para-church group that disbanded in 2019. Just having read the Wikipedia page about them, the similarities with the UHC are, well, striking. I look forward to reading more about this, especially from readers in the UK who are familiar with its history. The big difference in what we’ve been told so far between the Jesus Army and the UHC is the former seems to have adhered to the traditional doctrines and creeds of the Christian faith, albeit the post Reformation ‘orthodoxy.’
Do you suspect as I do that Rowling intends to make the case via Robin’s immersion into the UHC that human beings today feel the longings for ego-transcending experience, for spiritual warfare even, a longing hard-wired into the species (homo religiosus per Eliade) -- and are easily manipulated by those willing to create 'religious alternatives' to the despised parish church? I don’t think, if the brothers’ testimonies at the luncheon with Strike and Ellacott are any indication, that the victims of cult recruiting are going to get off without serious chastisement.
Regardless, the excerpt has me much more interested in this Strike title than I have been since Troubled Blood.
Kevin the late cult survivor believed there is an authentic capability to contact or conjure the dead; given the history of Rowling's pointers to spectral influence in her novels a la Nabokov, do you think we'll be 'going there'? Seances, tarot card readings, I Ching consultations, say, to hear from Kevin? From Leda?
Most of Rowling’s readers, I think it fair to guess, are not orthodox Christians in the historical sense. Even those of us who are lean with the horde of both Guardian and Daily Mail readers contra anything that can be labeled a ‘cult.’ I struggle to think of any word with as many heavy pejorative meanings and associations as the word ‘cult.’
That being said, it resembles ‘fundamentalist,’ one of The Presence’s favorite insults, in having a very specific and well-defined meaning that is lost in its usage to describe anything the writer or speaker doesn’t like. It is the rare person indeed today who can explain what makes a religious group into a cult, properly understood; for the best explanation I have read on just this subject, please read ‘Cults and Cultism in American Religion’ by the late Rev Dr Joseph Miller, a professor of psychology and Orthodox Christian priest.
We are all, again, pre-disposed to be very skeptical about any claims of spirituality or religious experience coming out of a group classified as a ‘cult.’ Rowling inserts here, however, one strong note in these opening chapters that the UHC may have access to spectral reality, the so-called psychic realm beneath, to risk using spatial language for alocal ideas, the spiritual realm, namely, Kevin’s supposed belief that the UHC could contact the dead.
I suspect, as she did with Trelawny in Harry Potter and in Troubled Blood’s occult elements — most importantly Bill Talbot’s astrological drawing and cartomancy drills in his ‘True Book’ — that Rowling will be smuggling the reality of the psychic and spiritual dimensions into those parts of her story her readers are least inclined to take seriously, hiding in plain sight. Given Strike’s antipathy to everything immaterial beyond psychology and Robin’s similar indifference to Christian faith and practice, her immersion in the UHC promises to be a roller-coaster ride of texts inside of texts, misdirection, and, one hopes, symbolic and semi or pseudo-sacramental activity.
Here's the grab-bag question: Do you see anything here that suggests parallels with Deathly Hallows? Cuckoo's Calling? Lethal White? Career of Evil? What about our mythological templates and Evan's ten book theory? Are we on our way to a separation in the finale, one that will last two books?
Where to begin? Here are my first hurried notes:
The beginning at a baptism in which service both of the godparents renounce Satan and the awkward moments with Murphy at the reception -- not to mention Barbie the Barrister! -- have strong echoes of Lethal White's start at the wedding and the fast forward to a year later (here the baptism is eight months after the end of Strike 6 but you get the same effect). Strike4 the ring center features Robin undercover for weeks at a time if not truly embedded, a restaurant meeting with the angry parent (not the Chiswells but whose family is tied to this case) to hire Strike & Ellacott, and the last chapter has Robin oblivious to Strike's feeling's for her and her own lying to Murphy akin to her attempts in White to 'save' her marriage.
The echoes of Cuckoo are in the opening chapter in which we get the UCH case presented in montage-epistolary form before the Agency is engaged, something akin to the opening of 'Part 2' in White.
If Evan Willis's theory is correct, we may see the opposite end of the sacramental spectrum, a funeral, at the story close and the beginning of the partners' two book separation.
The only obvious tie to Strike3, something PSI all but requires because Deathly Hallows is a retelling of Prisoner with Snape as Sirius, is the ex phone machina appearance of Shanker and Strike's agreement to help him find his step-daughter's father.
Deathly Hallows echoes? Beginning at a church event (baptism/wedding?), the promise of at least one of the partners going undercover/into hiding, pretty thin connections?
I look forward to the publication of Running Grave, which, if this excerpt is any indication, promises to be one of Rowling’s finest novels, and I covet your comments and corrections! Please do let me know what you made of the excerpt pages.
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