Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Thoughts on the Millennium Trilogy

Stieg Larsson's books seem to be like Marmite - you either love them or hate them, but they're bloody awkward to spread on toast. Having just finished listening to the whole trilogy in audiobook format, and seeing as the publicity machine shows no sign of relenting with the English-language film adaptationout soon, I thought I'd offer my own thoughts on the books.

  • Lisbeth Salander is one kick-ass heroine, and easily the best thing in the books. As she takes her revenge on people like the perverted lawyer Bjurman, I found myself almost cheering her on. Her complexities aren't quite fully explored - it's occasionally suggested that she's somewhere on the autism/Asperger's spectrum, but nothing much is ever made of this. Likewise, her 'special abilities', her photographic memory and almost savant-like computer skills, have to be accepted at face value, and hint at Larsson having watched "Rain Man" once, but didn't really do all that much research afterwards. Her punk/emo/goth stylings, though, are a refreshing break from the usual crime thriller cliches, and the descriptions of her bisexual relationships feel natural, rather than something that was chucked in for shock value. Salander's attitude towards authority, and indeed people in general, is probably what kept me most interested.
  • Mikael Blomkvist is an annoying, sanctimonious prick. It didn't take long for me to realise that Blomkvist is Larsson's idealised version of himself - women jump into bed with him at the drop of a hat, and he always ends up with his enemies crushed and himself vindicated. Just imagine The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo without Salander, and you'll see what I mean - I don't think I could stomach more than a few chapters in the company of Blomkvist alone. A little less shagging, Stieg, and less triumphalism when Blomkvist saves the day yet again, and we might have had a flawed anti-hero on our hands. As it is, he's just an annoyingly self-important journalist.
  • I'm amazed Sweden hasn't drowned in coffee. The drink is everywhere - when a character walks into a room, first they turn on the light, then they switch on the coffee machine. Yet they never visit the bathroom. Weird. The coffee obsession eventually becomes almost parodic - the meticulous detailing of Salander's high-end coffee machine in her apartment verges on coffee porn, and it's barely believable that, in the final chapter, she detects Niedermann's presence by the warmth of the coffee machine. In a derelict brickworks.
  • The films are better than the books. For the simple reason that the books try to do too much. Dragon Tattoo would have been better without the tedious, drawn-out financial journalism angle, which is obviously Larsson getting one over on all the people he hated in his own life. Condensing the plot into a two-hour movie requires the excising of a good part of this, and although Blomkvist's rattling off his issue of Millennium in prison seems rushed after reading the books, in hindsight it could have done away with it altogether and lost nothing. I haven't seen the last two movies, but as the focus is much more on Salander herself, I imagine the problem of how much guff to leave out was not as pressing.
  • It's better having Larsson at the top of the bestseller list than Dan Brown, or JK Rowling. Brown's novels are about clunking plotlines, nonsensical religious imagery and dreadful writing. The Harry Potter series is about a bloody boy wizard, for God's sake, and is written for children - adults who are caught reading them should have their voting privileges removed. In this context, Larsson is on a par with Shakespeare. The Salander books will never win any prizes for their florid prose, but skewering prejudice against women, and attacking Neo-Nazis, is always going to be more welcome in a bookstore than wizards and Bible codes.

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