Joanne Rowling: Old allegations, new novel – literature & lectures

Robert Galbraith ‘alias Joanne Rowling’s new detective novel has been published in German – after the debate about transgender people read it differently. But don’t worry: it’s very good entertainment.

Of course – given all that has happened to Joanne K. Rowling in the last few months – one could ask why the author of the “Harry Potter” novels, as an avowed feminist, chose a male pseudonym for her second career as a writer: Robert Galbraith. In Great Britain, her homeland, from where her fame spread across the world via the USA, the seven books about the sorcerer’s apprentice, which made her author filthy rich, were published under the name JK Rowling – apparently to boys who supposedly did not likes to read women’s books, not being deterred from reading them. It doesn’t seem very emancipated.

Shortly before Christmas, the fifth volume of Robert Galbraith’s crime series was published in German with the protagonist Cormoran Strike, a detective who lost half a leg during a war mission in Afghanistan, otherwise a bear from a man who has feelings for his assistant Robin – this first name should actually delight transgender people – cannot admit. After the ostracism that Joanne Rowling experienced in the summer after she had posted a post that stated that people who menstruate are probably women, the author’s works are read differently. Rowling was faced with a massive shitstorm that went so far as to demand the burning of her books – or her own death right away.

One is always shocked at what sinister forces the Internet can unleash – a similar example was the autobiography of Woody Allen, which his own publishing house no longer wanted to print after massive protests. Such developments are extremely worrying, as they not only massively attack the right to freedom of expression, but also mix author and work in a dangerously short-sighted way.

Joanne Rowling, branded as “TERF” by the trans-activist community, “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”, whatever that means, felt compelled to make a long, justifying statement on her website. It is recommended to all who want to approach the problem without ideological foam at the mouth. That Rowling has to declare that she is not transphobic just because she insists on the fact of a biological sex reveals the distortion of the debate. And it seems understandable that she is driven by the concern that a diffusion of gender affiliation could have a negative impact on feminism concerns. It is difficult to imagine whether the increasing awareness of the difference between natal and perceived gender affiliation, which can lead to profound personality crises, especially during puberty, can go so far that young girls – Rowling does not focus on adolescent boys – undergo hormone treatment.

But how could what happened? Is it a matter of a new virtue terror which, under the treacherous name of a “cancel culture”, operates an identity politics that divides society into interest groups? Or is it simply a matter of fighting for equal treatment of all gender variants? Reading “Bad Blood” can reassure indignant souls in every direction, even if the title does not sound like reassurance. Rowling, that’s for sure, is still a master at her craft. It is astonishing that reading 1194 pages – where the author only takes energy and breath from – hardly ever gets boring.

What she has already demonstrated in the Harry Potter heptalogy also comes into play here: the author weaves such an extensive and at the same time tightly knit network of relationships and events that the reader finds it difficult to keep all the strings in hand . “Bad Blood” is about the disappearance of a young doctor in the middle of London 40 years ago – the novel is set in 2014. Reconstructing the traces of an event so far back in the past naturally requires the greatest ingenuity. A puzzle of clues is painstakingly put together, interrupted by the omniscient narrator’s insights into the emotional states of her protagonists Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott. As it should be, the young woman is ten years younger than her boss, and both have a failed relationship or marriage behind them. It is only hinted that Robin experienced a violent attack by a man – a trauma that shaped her like her author. No question about it: this is good entertainment for long corona evenings on the sofa. If the novel is heavy on the stomach, that’s only thanks to its considerable weight. Transgender activists should see it that way too.

Robert Galbraith: Bad blood. A case for Cormoran Strike. Novel. Translated from the English by Wulf Bergner, Christoph Göhler and Kristof Kurz. Blanvalet Verlag, Munich 2020. 1194 pages, 26 euros.

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