Thursday, 3 February 2011

Stieg Larsson, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2005)

OK, I know the original Man Som Hatar Kvinnor1, was published in 2005, but this English translation (by Reg Keeland) is copyright 2008. Though yes, I'm colossally late either way, but this isn't a proper review, because, try as I did over the year just past, I just couldn't face ploughing down the downhill slopes after getting half-way. Indeed, seeing as the back cover and first couple of pages contain a million2 laudatory quotes from people who have forgotten more about writing in general and crime fiction in particular than I'll ever know, I wonder a bit whether somehow my copy was full of different words to theirs or something....

[Though reassuringly, I see, over at his splendid blog, the writer and man Mark Blackmore has posted some notes on the books he's currently reading, where he says this about TGwtDT:
I have no problem with dumping books that become a chore. There are too many things to read to waste time on something you aren’t enjoying. I’m late to Larsson, since I assumed, correctly as it turned out, that this wouldn’t be for me, but I gave up halfway. I found the prose leaden and the mystery uninvolving, there simply as a structure on which Larsson could hang his crusading anger over sexual violence against women. I’ll still watch the film.

Which mostly, though not quite entirely, was my reaction.]

Of course, as Larsson died tragically young before his trilogy was published, he may well have written some different words himself had he lived long enough to see them into print himself, and I've only read (some) of it in translation anyway, but, you know, we can only read what we have...

Unlike Mr Blackmore, I was, in fact, rather taken with the mystery (essentially a locked room affair but with an island instead of a room) but I agree about the prose. Let us leave aside the early financial infodumping and fast forward to an early mention of Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo herself. On pp34-35 we learn that:

"when she was working at the computer her fingers flew over the keys";

that she was prone to

"wandering the corridors [...] like a stray cat";

and was considered

"a hopeless case" and "nothing but trouble".

(And also, rather oddly, that "Her extreme slenderness would have made a career in modelling impossible.") This mixture of cliche and "eh, what?" is, alas, not uncommon.

This wasn't what made me stop reading, though, especially as we (or I, at any rate) don't now how finished Larsson considered these books: it was passages like this ludicrous outbreak of computer-porn. At one point, about a third of the way through or so, Salander needs a new computer:

...she had an older desktop Mac G3 at home, as well as a five-year-old Toshiba P.C. laptop that she could use. But she needed a fast, modern machine.

Unsurprisingly, she set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminium case with a powerP.C. 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 megs of R.A.M. and sixty-gig hard drive. It had BlueTooth and built-in C.D. and D.V.D. burners.

Best of all, it had the first forty-three centimetre screen in the laptop world with N.V.I.D.I.A. graphics and a resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels, which shook the P.C. advocates and outranked everything else on the market. [194]

Arrgh. Dropping a real or imaginary brand name (as Ian Fleming or William Gibson do, for example) can add flavour of course, but this is madness (whatever the merry blazes any of it means....)

I also agree that the "crusading anger" Mr B mentions (however much the reader may share it) doesn't sit well with the classic mystery plot. It's possible, of course, to make brilliant fiction out of righteous anger (Andrew Vachss is the best example, I think) but this is just too bloated....

Heigh ho, to each their own, umpteen million readers and so on. And I do still want to know what the answer to the mystery was, so will be watching the DVD this weekend...

1 Men Who Hate Women.

2 Exaggeration.


  1. I haven't read this one and I can't say if I am more inclined to read it because of the oddities in the prose that you present or less so. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed this review!

  2. Hi Aarti -- and cheers! For what it's worth, I found these too long to put up with the oddities -- 500+ pages in this first volume, and No.3 The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest is nearly 750...

    I suspect the film-makers, having the opportunity to prune things down to fit vaguely sensible running times, have probably come up with something better, and (v. rarely for me), am going to give up the books and watch the films instead...

  3. Andrew Vachss (whose books truly are brilliant) wrote for the very first issue of Larsson's anti-fascist magazine, EXPO:

  4. Vicki

    I didn't know that about Vachss and Expo -- cheers.

    I completely agree with you about Vachss's books, by the way, and (not especially illuminatingly) attempted to explain why a few pages back here... The man is a legend.

    I felt, I think, with Dragon's Tattoo, that Larsson had an interesting classic mystery story, and the seeds of a compelling Vachss-style anger-bullet, but that the two together, especially given his tragic early death before, one supposes, final revisions, didn't really work...