Monday, August 2, 2010

The Girl with Something Extra

"THE GIRL WITH..." trilogy by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson is a publishing phenomenon. The other day I was on the Q train with my daughter. I was reading the third installment of the trilogy on a Sony Touch, she was sitting on my right reading the second book and to my left a lady was reading the first, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO. I also just watched the Swedish movie of TATOO on Netflix streaming on my son's Wii.

Is any of it any good? The first book has an interesting plot: an old rich man hires a disgraced journalist, Mikael Bolmkvist, to uncover the mystery of his missing and assumed-dead niece. The most compelling character by a factor of 1000 is the Aspergerish hacker, Lisbeth Salander, who is hired to do a background check on the journalist and ends up investigating the missing niece. The hacker and journalist meet and forge a relationship of unconditional trust and loyalty, like Spenser and Hawk without the sexual tension (unless I've been misreading Robert B. Parker). The second novel is about international sex trafficking and the third novel's plot follows directly after the second opening with Lisbeth's recovery from trauma.

If you're going to read this, it's for Lisbeth's character. Over the course of the trilogy, she slowly grows out of her turtle shell, which accreted from a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her family and government spies and factotums, to become an involved human being. Mikael, on the other hand, is a young middle-aged schlub who jogs a little yet has the kinetic sexual energy of Elvis in 1959. He walks into a room and women are instantly smitten. His character never develops. Most of the other characters have no depth and sound alike in speech and attitude.

Is it worse writing than The DaVinci Code (which I read on the Rocket eBook in the early 2000s)? No, but this is a translation and it would be interesting to see what someone fluent in Swedish and English can make of the writing. The love scenes and post-coital talk are boring and clinical with failed attempts at irony. The amount of space devoted to making and drinking coffee, eating a pastry or sandwich, getting dressed, the color of outfits, and falling asleep are considerable.

The TATOO movie: I saved 12 bucks by watching the Netflix stream rather that going to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Like THE LORD OF THE RINGS, in which I lamented the lack of depiction of fellowship that is a charm of the series, this adaption stints on characterization. It's in the first book, subtle and a little charming between Mikael and Lisbeth, and Mikael and the rich man, less so in any of the other relationships depicted. There is a lot of technical detail in Mikael's detective work, such as the perusal of photographic archives, and this is depicted too fast and furiously in the movie, losing the revelelatory impact that his dogged work and analysis has in the novel.

The third novel (all three are on my ebook) is becoming incredibly difficult to finish, a real slog. Lisbeth, the eponymous heroine, is laid up and all of her action is from a convalescent bed. Not a great plotting decision. Supposedly there is a fourth novel, two-thirds complete at the time of the author's death. If it ever appears, one would hope for less keyboarding and more whupass from the heroine.


Brigid said...

One can only wonder how the American movies will interpret the series. I wonder if they'll try to dilute the Swedish-ness of the books. Some of those names can be a real mouthful.


Brian said...

Michael Bloomberg could be the journalist.