Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson (2010)

In the beginning, Stieg Larsson created The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. And it was good.

I stand by that verdict. Yes, the prose was clunky, but it worked for a story of modern characters – Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who splits his time between crusading and preening, and Lisbeth Salander, the damaged genius of the title – in an anachronistic setting.

(ASIDE: I’m in the minority on this, but I saw the Swedish film adaptation and, aside from Noomi Rapace’s Salander, found it a dreary slog. Stripped of Larsson’s idiosyncratic style the story came across as formulaic. Rosemarie, who hadn’t read the book beforehand, summed it up thusly: “Horrible things happen to women, then and now.” An American remake, especially one directed by David Fincher, can only be an improvement.)

Next was The Girl Who Played With Fire. Actively disliked it.

Comes now Hornet’s Nest, picking up mere seconds after Fire ends. Salander has been reunited with her more-than-estranged father, a Soviet defector turned gangster, and as these things usually go each tries to kill the other.

I’ve stuck with the series for one reason, and that’s Salander. So naturally she spends almost the entirety of this book incapacitated. Instead we follow a cover-up carried out by septuagenarians and their dimwitted factotums.

The granularity of Larsson’s plotting keeps the pages turning, but the writing has not improved. Here’s Salander’s doctor as she’s wheeled into the ER.

“And now the murderer herself had been shot, which was surely poetic justice of a sort. But that was not his concern. His job was to save his patient’s life, irrespective of whether she was a triple murderer or a Nobel Prize winner. Or both.”

The critical term we’re looking for is yeesh.

Once again terrible things happen to women. The book is further padded with a stalker storyline involving Blomkvist’s lover Erika Berger that Salander unravels without leaving her hospital bed. Admittedly, personal and institutional misogyny is Larsson’s true subject. He even has Blomkvist say so for those who haven’t tumbled to that fact.

“When it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it’s about violence against women, and the men who enable it.”

But too often Larsson wallows in what he professes to decry. And seriously, who uses a semi-colon in dialogue?

Lisbeth Salander is such a singular creation that I read all 1,500+ pages about her. I just didn’t care for most of them. But Stieg Larsson has single-handedly saved publishing and created a tourism industry, so take my take with a grain of salt. Preferably washed down with an Akvavit.

UPDATE: Nora Ephron has some problems with the books as well.