Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson and writing

How many of you have ready The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

Probably quite a few—I have read its series is the fastest selling book in history.

I read the first book, and I'm now working my way through the sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire. I can't say I'm enjoying the reading, the way I enjoy reading authors like John Updike or Mark Helprin or Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Larsson's writing is sloppy and wordy. His work reads, even in translation, as if it's a first draft, never edited. It breaks almost every rule of good writing. The dialogue is unbelievable. Larsson wastes pages describing daily routines, like the exact contents of the groceries a character buys. Who cares how many Billy's Pan Pizzas a character eats? The descriptions of the particular model of PowerBook and Ikea furniture seem more like product placement than anything else.

So why did the books sell so well? In The Larsson Scandal: The unauthorized guerilla critique of Stieg Larsson, author Andre Jute says that it's got a lot to do with Larsson's feminist pronouncements. However, most readers of the trilogy don't follow, or care about the arguments between self-described and -promoting feminists and the literary establishment.

I think the reason that people read this series and stick with Larsson's bad writing through thousands of pages is the Girl herself, Lisbeth Salander. I don't know about you, but I've never found a character like her before in anything that I've ever read. We all know people like her, but never in fiction before. She is not likeable, not admirable—she does some very questionable things, despite Larsson's description of her as having her own rules. Still, Lisbeth Salander is a compelling character, and it's she that makes these books interesting.

I don't believe in any of the other characters:
- Blomkvist, the character who is supposed to the hero and is obviously the proxy of the author, is far too cool to be believed. Irresistible to women, athletic, the most admirable journalist in Sweden who makes a mistake that every reader sees coming from the beginning of the first book.
- Erica, his companion with her open marriage. Do you think this situation exists anywhere in reality: Erica has a long-time relationship with Mikael Blomqvist, which ends after a few years because Mikael does not want to get married. However, Erica and Mikael have started a magazine together and continue their professional relationship. Erica marries another man. However, she can't keep her hands off of Mikael. So she confesses her affair to her husband, who accepts it. All she has to do, when she wants to sleep with Mikael, is phone her husband and explain why she won't be home that night. The husband goes along with it "because he loves Erica." He doesn't come after Mikael with a baseball bat, doesn't divorce his wife, doesn't change the locks. And I haven't read anything about him sleeping around, either, in misguided revenge. Any of these things would be believable, but not "Okay, honey, have fun!"

Andre Jute exposes all the plot holes as well, and I recommend you download and read his e-book.
Now, I do not accept Larsson's diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. Larsson is not qualified to make that diagnosis. It may be true, but then, this is a fictional character, so making psychiatric evaluations is ridiculous. And Larsson is not a good enough writer to provide the richness of detail and characterization to describe a real Asperger's patient.

Larsson deserves his fame and sales simply for creating Lisbeth Salander. Too bad he's such a lousy writer.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:16 PM

    Well said Sir. I too find these books infuriating. The latest reading poll for thrillers has placed Dragon Tattoo 2nd, on a list of 100, behind Silence of The Lambs. Unelievable that Larsson can be placed next to Thomas Harris.