Sales of "The Cuckoo's Calling" surge by 150,000% after JK Rowling revealed as author

"Robert Galbraith" was critically acclaimed, but it takes Rowling to be commercially successful.

JK Rowling has been revealed as the pseudonymous author of The Cuckoo’s Calling, a crime novel recently published under the name "Robert Galbraith".

The book won near-universal praise from critics in April when it was released, with Publishers Weekly saying it combined "a complex and compelling sleuth and an equally well-formed and unlikely assistant with a baffling crime" to make a "stellar debut"; readers on GoodReads.com call it "a mature, realistic take on an often-done genre" with "some of the most endearingly likeable characters in the genre"; and AustCrime said "There's really only one problem with books as good as The Cuckoo's Calling. Waiting for the next one in the series."

Rowling was involuntarily unmasked as the real Galbraith, and told the Sunday Times that she would have liked to stay hidden for longer:

Being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience… It has been wonderful to publish without hype and expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.

While the feedback is honest, so too are the sales. It's a fantastic demonstration of the divide between the big names in publishing and the rest: thanks to all the praise, the book sold "more than 1,500 copies". That's slightly under one per cent of the number of copies of The Casual Vacancy shifted in its first week, and slightly over 0.05 per cent of the copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold in the first day.

Before the news broke last night, the book was ranked 4,709 on Amazon's bestsellers listing; it is now number three. Unsurprisingly, that makes it the number one "mover and shaker" on the site, with a 156,866% increase in sales over just one day.

What's the power in a name? Quite a lot, it seems.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Under lock and key: inside the fairytale world of Helen Oyeyemi

Reading What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is like settling into a roller coaster.

Gepetta walks into a classroom in “is your blood as red as this? (yes)”, a story at the heart of Helen Oyeyemi’s first collection of tales. And, yes, her name looks familiar: a feminised slant on the creator of Pinocchio in Carlo Collodi’s 19th-century novel. Sure enough, the subject of the class is the history of puppetry; Gepetta is struck by the presence of Rowan Wayland, already settled in the room. There is an “ocean of space” around him; he seems to be either a pariah or a celebrity, maybe both. Gepetta can’t take her eyes off him. “Rowan’s physical effect – godlike jawline, long-lashed eyes, umber skin, rakish quiff of hair – is that of a lightning strike.” An inhuman beauty, one might say, and with good reason, for it becomes apparent that Rowan is a puppet, too, “masterless and entirely alive”.

It is a mark of Oyeyemi’s confidence that she masters such shifts so adeptly – but at the age of just 31 she is an experienced writer. Her first novel, The Icarus Girl, was written while she was still at school; she has since published four more, all of them built from a love of language and a fascination with fairy tales and mythology which have earned her comparisons with Angela Carter – and there are moments in this collection, certainly, which recall The Bloody Chamber. On the surface, Oyeyemi’s “dornička and the st martin’s day goose” looks like a riff on “Red Riding Hood”, an answer to Carter’s “Company of Wolves”, when Dornička meets a wolf on a mountain. Once again, however, things are not as they seem: “. . . let’s try to speak of things as they are: it was not a wolf she met but something that had recently consumed a wolf”. And Dornička is not a little girl but an adult; the story draws not only on what is familiar to us in western Europe but also the tales of the Czech poet Karel Jaromír Erben – it takes its epigraph from his ballad “The Golden Spinning Wheel”, a gruesome slant on a Cinderella tale.

Despite all these influences, the story is absolutely Oyeyemi’s own, set in a world where “speaking of things as they are” might lead the reader in any direction at all. And her arguments, about identity, about sexuality, are more fluid than Carter’s, as is to be expected from a writer of her generation and with her history. Born in Nigeria, Oyeyemi has lived in the UK since the age of four. Writers with a foot in two places often have a keen sense of what it means to belong – or not to belong.

She plays with this idea most directly in “a brief history of the homely wench society”, in which a group of young women push down the doors of an all-male society at Cambridge University (the author’s alma mater; I reckon she knows whereof she speaks). What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is freighted with ideas of entry, of permission: it is a book full of locks and keys. In the opening story, “books and roses”, a foundling is left in a chapel; the little girl has a golden chain around her neck, and on the chain is a key. As she grows, the girl tries every lock, but no doors open. “. . . what could she call it, a notion, a suggestion, a promise?” She will discover that the key fits the door of a library that smells of leather and roses.

But the path to the door is not direct: like most of the tales in this book, “books and roses” loops and swirls, hooking characters together and then setting them apart, making the reader wait until the next story (or perhaps the one after that) to meet up with them again. Do not be misled by this recurrence; the stories here are linked not by a thread of events, but by a sensibility, one cut free from the constraints of conventional narrative. The tales’ swerving trajectory makes their peaks of emotion – as when a character in “presence” imagines the life of the child she has never had – all the more powerful. Reading What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is like settling into a roller coaster: you must abandon yourself to the turns and drops. Only then will you enjoy the ride.

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi is published by Picador (263pp, £14.99)

Erica Wagner is a New Statesman contributing writer and a judge of the 2014 Man Booker Prize. A former literary editor of the Times, her books include Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of “Birthday Letters” and Seizure.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism