Monday, May 17th, 2010

The Blog That Needed Fixing, a Novel by Stieg Larsson

I’m going to keep posting, but this blog is going to morph slightly over the course of the coming week.

This is because I e-mailed my incredible Web designer and made caveman noises that meant “make my blog look … bloggier.” Basically I wanted her to junk up the margins — which she has so meticulously kept pristine over the lifetime of this site — with the usual stuff like archives and a bio and a twitter feed, etc., because more people have been coming in directly to this page, so it needs to look more like a landing page. So she’s doing that with her customary alacrity.

I will post later today. In the meantime here’s my Time piece about the fight over Stieg Larsson’s inheritance. It used to be 3,000 words long but ran at about 1,400. So assume it was the clever stuff that got cut out.

And since you made it past the jump, I will reward you with a DVD extra. My genius friend Laura Miller wrote a piece about Larsson in Salon today. Since she knows I have mixed feelings about the books (I think they’re over-praised), she e-mailed me on Friday to ask what bothered me about them and generally what my major malfunction was.

For some reason I answered her with an insane anti-Larsson rant, which even I have to admit is overstated. (and I toned it down a little for public consumption.) I reproduce it below, not in a spirit of trolliness, but just because I’m curious whether anyone had a similar reaction.

My list of things that annoy me about Stieg Larsson:

— the godawful writing. it feels narcotized, or possibly frostbitten. the one-sentence paragraphs. the italics for dramatic effect. and so on.

— the godawful pacing. I laughed out loud half a dozen times when Larsson unbelievably went back for another stakeout, another march through a closely narrated internet search, another explication of Swedish tax law, etc. For God’s sake, the man is dead, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be edited.

— the gaping holes in logic. Sorry, Salander and Zalachenko almost kill each other, and then they’re put in adjoining hospital rooms?

— Larsson’s love of the stacked deck. He has the hack’s habit of generating sympathy for his characters by heaping injustices on them. While crudely effective, this is not a substitute for psychological or moral insight.

— Blomkvist, who has only two character traits to rub together, namely his dislike of injustice and his love for casual sex. He’s the ultimate Marty Stew.

— The barely concealed dislike of women. Whatever the praiseworthy and morally upright text of these books is, they have a subtext too, and only a man who somewhere within him harbored great anger at women could have indulged in the kinds of fictional cruelties to women that Larsson revels in. As for Salander, his putatively strong female protagonist, she is a creepy man’s fantasy — a smart woman with a girl’s barely pubescent body who loves having it off with older men from whom she demands no affection in return.


17 comments on “The Blog That Needed Fixing, a Novel by Stieg Larsson

  1. Karen Attaway says:

    Thanks for saving me money. I have been on the verge of buying the first Larrson book a couple of times.

    On another note, I started The Hunger Games yesterday. Damn, it sucks you in right from the start. It’s so good and I hear it calling my name as I type.

  2. Levi Stahl says:

    For the longest time, I thought I was the only person who hated The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I hated for all the reasons you list above. I’d ordered it from the UK right before it was first published in English, based on a great advance review, and I was so disappointed–I could tell by the end of the first page that I’d made a mistake. But everyone loves it . . . so I’m glad to encounter other people who don’t.

    {What really sent me over the edge was the near-page-long account of the specs of Salander’s computer. The dead deserve much better from their editors than that.}

  3. Declan Burke says:

    I didn’t hate Dragon Tattoo – I just couldn’t get past the first hundred pages. Clunkily written (although that might be the translation), and implausible but still boring.

    Then someone told me the story doesn’t really get going until the second hundred pages.

    Someone else I know reckons the series doesn’t REALLY get going until the second novel.

    Life’s too short to waste on novels that don’t ‘get going’ until the second hundred pages …

    Cheers, Dec

  4. This is like finding a support group. I’d also begun to think I was the only one who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I agree with all Lev’s comments, especially the last one – Salander seems to me to be little more than a creepy cartoon, a deviant Lara Croft. And, for Declan’s benefit, I actually thought the second book was worse than the first. I remain bemused as to why so many people whose opinions I respect think differently.

  5. Ron McMillan says:

    The Larsson phenomenon is remarkable for many reasons, but the one I cannot get past is that the first book succeeded in overcoming the worst first forty pages in crime fiction history. I only got through them because I knew there was something that might be worth reading later – but how on earth did the first people to pick up this book manage not to bin it after a few pages?

    I finished the book and came away in a state of wonder that a book so badly edited (if edited at all) could ever have been published, let alone become a major success. I have zero desire to read the others in the series.

  6. iris says:

    I agree–the Larsoon “phenomenon” is distressing for so many reasons. The fact that he is no good, is not as sad as the fact that some people upon seeing the Swedish filming of his first work, say they NOW like foriegn films. OMG, the land of Bergman has produced this one man (dead) who is continuting to drag down culture as does James Cameron. Yes this is a pooly written rant on my part, but I am traumatized after being accepted to the Huffinton post’s arts staff and then being ignored.(Did they find out that I am not knee-jerk leftie somehow) So I an not going to bother to write decently anymore.

    Keep it up all you keepers of the flame:)

  7. Leverus says:

    That would traumatize anybody. And I say this as a knee-jerk leftie.

  8. Mark Norman says:

    Glad you pointed out the creepy (old) guy’s fantasy aspect. Lisbeth would even screw her middle-aged boss, except …. such correctness …he’s her boss. The strategy is to justify the porn – like the forced blowjob – in the name of Exposing Violence Against Women. I’d add that Blomkvist is comically John Wayne about sex. He’s the strong silent type who doesn’t want the threesome that the limp-wristed cuckolded husband apparently does. But that’s ok because Blomkvist has high regard for a gay *designer*. For every crude prejudice, a lame excuse.

  9. egan says:

    I agree with all that you say about Larsson’s writing but the suggestion that he disliked women is unwarranted. By all accounts, he was a decent guy, and until someone says publicly, “No actually, he had a torture chamber in his basement where he took pleasure in tormenting women,” you’re crossing the line with that one. A writer, even a bad one, has the right to use the horrors of the real world for his/her fiction. Doesn’t mean he’s a closet misogynist.

  10. You forgot the incessant shilling for various pet brands Larsson includes, ostensibly as a way of achieving a measure of “realism” in his stories. Not only brand names, but model names and even, in the case of a particularly popular manufacturer of laptops and other electronic baubles, a little compare-&-contrast between models of different production years. Oofah, just this is too much.

  11. Uff da (not Oofah)! So many people condemning three books that I greatly enjoyed and that held my attention from the beginning. (I’ll confess that I read them on airplanes and in airports while waiting for the next flight, but it sure passed the time!) And yes, I’ve read Annie Proulx (who is a subtle, masterful writer), Hilary Mantel (ditto) and most of the rest that were mentioned in a previous article. Also, I was an English major in college and have a Ph.D in Spanish Language and Literature and translate into English from five languages (Swedish, regrettably, isn’t one of them). And I never read romance novels. I do, however, happen to enjoy some detective fiction.

    Being of Finnish parentage, I didn’t mind the disquisitions on the meals the characters ate or their morning preps, and how much coffee they drank and the Swedish traits most of which the Finns have too, Finland having belonged to Sweden for a good 800 years. To me it was like an anthropological dig or a sociological treatise, informative. And having been a Silicon Valley tech writer, I didn’t even mind the technological disquisitions.

    There are no Lisbeth Salanders in real life, and some of her personality traits were repellent, but she stuck it to the Man! And that always warms my heart.

    Yes, some of the situations strained credibility. But I don’t live only in my head. And dammit, I liked those books.

  12. Leave a comment on something I wrote? Huh? Well, let’s just say I am 100% in agreement with myself.

  13. Jack Bludis says:

    Gee, I really didn’t know I was so stupid. Thanks for pointing out why I shouldn’t have enjoyed the entire series.

    Apparently, only you and God know that fiction is written not for the masses to enjoy–included some of the educated masses–but for academics to ponder and pick apart.

    And yes, cruelty to women in fiction to illustrated cruelty to women in real life, is obviously a ploy of the misogynist. We must never be fooled by that misdirection.

    It must be hard to keep your nose that far in the air while you read.

  14. Cleo says:

    Wow. So glad I’m no alone in thinking these books badly needed major editing. Too long, too much irritating detail, too much silly sex (because they’re Swedes??) and too much improbable happenstance.

    Mostly, I was bored while reading this trilogy.

  15. Owen Hughes says:

    Having a chuckle as I read this.

    While I enjoyed the film I made the mistake of then reading books for installments 2 and 3 and I was amazed at how bad they were.

  16. Miriam says:

    You know that the original Swedish title of the first book of the Millenium trilogy is “Men who hate women” – as you could sense some hating of women in the book I mean…

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