Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Not a review of Stieg Larsson's MilleniumTrilogy

Having recently finished reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, the last in Stieg Larsson's best-selling Millenium Trilogy, I've been reflecting on what I like and don't like about these three books.  For various reasons, I often steer clear of any book, film or event if the neon lights of hype are garishly flashing around it, but the quality of praise that this trilogy attracted (coupled with the fact that an opportunity to begin reading it occurred when I was on holiday) took the edge off the hype and persuaded me to pick it up.

Of the three, I least enjoyed Number Two: The Girl Who Played With Fire.  After The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the characters seemed less convincing and the storyline little more than a run-of-the-mill thriller; despite being action-packed, its pace barely carried me through and I only stuck with it because, as a reader, I'd invested some time with the characters in Number One. Only in the final chapters did I begin to engage again, although this was probably more to do with the action than the characters themselves. Fortunately, in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, Stieg Larsson breathed life back into Lisbeth Salander, Mikael Blomkvist and their various sidekicks, supporters and adversaries. The dynamics between the characters made this a more satisfying read and, although it runs to 746 pages, I was locked in from the beginning.  Once again, though, it isn't much more than an action-packed thriller (with a bit of espionage thrown in for good measure), which is excellent if that's what you're after and particularly if you enjoy the work of John Grisham, Tom Clancy, et al.  So, apart from the hype, what was it about this trilogy and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in particular that generated widespread enthusiasm?  This is the question I've been asking myself.  Even if I ask the question not as someone who fancies himself as a literary critic, but as a writer constantly clarifying what it is I want to write and how I want to write it.

While the characters in this first book are well-drawn, the plot isn't anything out of the ordinary - and, to my mind, some of the sub-plots are more interesting.  So what is its allure?  Well, Lisbeth Salander is certainly a quirky character, and there's often an appeal in that, while Mikael Blomkvist is an effective foil for her, as well as a strong character himself.  But it's also the fact that this novel is set in and describes a strong image of Sweden, which, for English-speaking readers, adds considerably to its charm, I suspect.  This in itself is an interesting journey to go on, and I don't believe it would have enjoyed a fraction of its popularity if the events took place against a more familiar backdrop, such as America or Britain, for example.  There may be a parallel here with the success of Peter H√łeg's Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow, which creates some wonderful quirky characters, offers a mystery to be solved, introduces some high-level skulduggery, and takes the reader on a journey through both Denmark and Greenland.  Maybe it's got something to do with a fascination for snow!  On the other hand, I know that, apart from the captivating narrative voices he creates, the surreal storylines, the quirky characters (again), it's the Japanese backdrop - rural or urban - that's drawn me to Haruki Murakami's novels time and time again.  Location, location!  All in all, The Millenium Trilogy has got me thinking more about the significance of setting than anything else, being sidetracked into wondering if this is part of the charm for readers of Fantasy and Science Fiction (the allure of other worlds), and where I might want to travel next, both in my reading and my own writing.


Mike French said...

Well this raises an interesting question Paul as to what makes a bestseller? I'd be very cautious of setting to much on a particular aspect of the book like geography - it's, as you know, a black art and publishers can't answer the question. Often, like you've seen here, it doesn't mean the text is the best of its genre - just look at Dan Brown's prose.

Paul said...

Couldn't agree with you more, Mike, although, with all other things being equal, I reckon a strong marketing department and good P.R. might have more than a little to do with it.