Uncollected Thoughts on Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy

Like boatloads of others, I have torn through the first two novels in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and has already pre-ordered the final chapter. And while you couldn’t reasonably call them edifying, they do read awfully damn well.

Still, I can’t let the particular weirdness of this phenomenon pass without some eye-brow raising. So here are a few observations on the series so far:

  1. A word on the writing style—there isn’t one. And I don’t mean that in the Hemingway/Salter minimalist sense but in the it-reads-like-a-shooting-script sense. Leafing back through The Girl Who Played with Fire, the Ape couldn’t find one sentence that might described as pleasurable or well-crafted. This is narrative functionalism at its very bleakest. We’re going to assume for the moment that the translation is faithful to say the following; this might be the plainest prose of any literary blockbuster I can remember.
  2. The directness of the narration, though, consistently dissolves when either of the two protagonists, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, is shopping, especially for food, technology, and Billy bookcases at Ikea. Larsson is oddly specific about Salander’s computers; we get screen size, model number, exact price, hard drive size, and amount of RAM (all Apple, of course). We even get the specs of the staff machines at Milliennium, the excruciatingly boring investigative rag run by Blomkvist. I suppose if you know that an Apple G3 is an old computer, this might tell you something, but even the Ape’s freakish fascination with technology wasn’t enough to remain interested in this minutia. The random detailing extends to home furnishings as well: you can tell Larsson had an IKEA catalog out and open whenever it was time to describe an apartment. Do we really need to know the names of the IKEA armchairs and sofas?
  3. I know Larsson was primarily a journalist, but I don’t think we needed parenthetical citations for the books mentioned. I’m not kidding; titles of a book were immediately followed by publication information, like (Harvard University Press, 2001, $19.99). I’ve never seen anything like it.
  4. Lisbeth Salander is as close to a super-hero as you can get in a supposedly reality-based novel. She’s the greatest computer hacker in the world; she has a photographic memory; she is a chess savant; she is independently wealthy; she is a professional quality boxer; and she has a mathematical mind capable of grappling, untrained, with the most rarefied equations, including Fermat’s theorem and spherical astronomy.  Salander is one of the series’ great attractions, but the Ape is reminded of Aristotle’s observation that ,in art, a probable impossibility is preferable to an improbable possibility. That is, I would almost rather she was a mutant or had been bitten by a radioactive caterpillar than possess a litany of nominally possible abilities.
  5. As mentioned in an earlier post, the books are startlingly and disturbingly violent, slotting somewhere above The Silence of the Lambs and somewhere below the Saw movies on the Gruesome Scale. There’s more to say about this, but the Ape is saving it for a long post to be published on the release of the final novel. Sufficed to say, we have our concerns about the popularity of the book, and perhaps even our own enjoyment of it, considering the degree and nature of the violence against women.
  6. Deus ex machina—the fledgling crime writer’s best friend. Not to spoil the plot, but let’s just say there are some laughably staged rescues.

This list is a bit grumpy, but it’s born of a head-scratching affinity for the books that the Ape even spends this much time thinking about them. If you are traveling by plane or spending some quality relaxation time somewhere this summer, you could do a hell of a lot worse than these. Just don’t think too much about why you like them.

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