Thursday, 8 July 2010

The girl who read books at blogtime

No prizes for guessing what I've been reading...

Stieg Larsson's multimillion selling Millennium trilogy:

And, you know what?  I'm unconvinced. 

Is it just me or is it all a bit emperor's new clothes?  I can't help wondering that if it hadn't been written in an (oo er) foreign language (and is therefore clever and different) and if the author hadn't tragically died young and shortly after delivering the last book to his publisher, we wouldn't all be thinking of it as the great new literary trilogy but more as Sweden's answer to Dan Brown, even down to the mysterious, unnamed, odd-looking silent killer.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm afraid I don't see what all the fuss is about.  Ok, they're jolly exciting and plot driven, but then so are Mr Brown's works, and the critics don't go wild for them.

There were just too many things that didn't feel quite right.  The titles are rubbish, but that's not Larsson's fault. In Swedish they're different.  The first one, for those as don't already know, was originally Men who hate women  and therein lies my first quibble.  There is one, count her, one woman in the first book who is not in some way abused.  In fact it takes until the second part of the second book until you meet another.  Now, I'm not saying that there are not some horrible men out there, and maybe I'm just being naive and idealistic, but not all men are filthy abusive bastards, and not all women are victims, and I found myself, as I read on, objecting, on behalf of both my sex and the other, to the implication that this was the case.

You get a few more lucky (normal?) characters in the later parts of the second, and the third novels, but the stereotypes still hold true.  Incidental characters have sordid secrets, and it's almost always to do with violence and hatred towards women, and even those who iin earlier sections manage to seem relatively, well, balanced, turn out to be on the receiving end of some pretty horrid stuff.

And then I found myself wondering, why did Larsson think this? And, more importantly, why does he have to write it with such relish?  There are only so many nasty scenes of women being abused I want to take, and he rewrites and revists at least one too many time for me.  Similarly, why is there only one couple in all three novels with a half-way mainstream relationship?  Are we really all so twisted? (Or does he just think those of us that are mainstream are just dull, unimaginative, and unworthy of being written about?)

But it's not just that. It's silly too.  I mean, honestly, a solution to Fermat, that conveniently gets forgotten?  Purlease.  (And I'm not just saying that because Andrew Wiles and I had the same primary maths teacher (although not at the same time, for the avoidance of doubt)). 

And that's before I get into the irritations of product placement (too many specifics of computers and PDAs and Ikea furniture for my taste); or the clunkiness of some of the prose (and although admittedly some of that could be put down to the translation, why is it that that same mathematical formula, which is famously understandable by a child, suddenly seems so complicated when Larsson describes it?); or repetition, as though he's found a bit of research, popped it into one book and then forgotten he's already used it when he came to write the next one.

It's hard to know, of course, to what extent the books were finished when they were delivered to his publisher prior to his death. Maybe they were, perhaps particularly the last one, only in rough drafts.  For his sake, I hope so.  Because, for me, that was the weakest one by a distance.  Even the tension, which had carried me through the first two, seemed lacking here, as though he had run out of energy and imagination and just had to tie the ends together as quickly as possible.  

Perhaps I'm being harsh. As I said, I enjoyed them, but I'm just not sure they're as great as the reviewers would have you believe.  Read them, by all means, but bring your suspension of disbelief and your strong stomachs with you.


  1. My husband has just finished all three so they are now sitting on my bedside table; I'm dithering as to whether to dive in or not. He enjoyed them but he does read a lot of escapist tosh so that's not enough to persuade me.

  2. Might be good for your hol.... incidentally do you want that Sophie Kinsella - can prob get it in the post before you go...?

    Oh, and pass this link on to your husband. He'll love it!

  3. I sent you an email reply with my address on it. Did you not get it? Will send again if you like but no hurry. I asked in the email if you wanted David Nicholls' "One Day" which I've just finished and v much enjoyed.

  4. No I didn't! So sorry because you must have been thinking I'm terribly rude... try again: it's planbee at btinternet dot com. And I'd love the David Nicholls if you're sure - I've got a load of harrowing books to read and I'm not sure I can face any of them....


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