Literary Crack

I am a non-smoker.  I don’t gamble excessively.  I have a beer at dinner and a scotch before bed, but I don’t stand up at AA meetings and say “Hi, my name’s Pete.”  I’ve never been a meth head.  In short, I don’t really have any serious addictions.  I don’t know what it’s like to need a fix of anything.

At least I didn’t until I finished reading The Girl Who Played With Fire and realized that I didn’t have a copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I panicked.  Being in China, I couldn’t run to the nearest bookstore.  Being a stubborn traditionalist, I don’t have a Kindle or Nook or any other gadget with a cute name onto which I could download a copy.  It was like reading halfway through a really good book and suddenly dropping it in an incinerator.  Luckily, I was able to find a copy on Taobao.com, the Chinese e-Bay.  With expedited delivery, my withdrawal only lasted a few days.

As I mentioned in a previous post, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is not the best book ever published.  But it’s smart, well-written and as addictive as literary crack.  The second two installments of the Millennium Trilogy fit the same bill.  In fact, it’s pretty easy to think of this trilogy as a single work – stylistically, there’s little difference between the individual books and the quality of writing is consistent throughout all three.  While the first book stands alone so far as plot was concerned, the second book is seamlessly integrated with the third.  Rather than ending one book and starting another, there could have simply been a chapter break.  All of what I previously said about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo could be said about The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

However, I do have a few observations specific to the other two books.  First, the character of Niederman in The Girl Who Played With Fire seemed a bit….recycled.  This isn’t necessarily a huge criticism of Larsson, especially since his other characters are quite original.  With Niederman’s character, however, I get the feeling that Larsson copped out a bit.  Here’s what I imagine going through his mind:

Okay, bad guy… Needs a physical abnormality… how about he’s a…a… giant!  Check.  Next, extremely rare genetic condition….hmmm….I know, albino!  Wait – Dan Brown’s already got that one…Drats! Ok, ok, I got it.   He can’t feel pain!  Perfect.  Finally, a crippling psychological Achilles heel which saves the heroine at the last moment…. coulrophobia?  Too pedestrian, Stephen King’s already exploited that one.   What about ghosts?  Yeah, ghosts are popular now.  He sees ghosts.  Done and done.”

However, despite his lack of originality, Niederman was a genuinely menacing character and I suppose that’s what’s really important.

Secondly, I couldn’t help but notice how perfectly suitable these books are to movie adaptations, specifically The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  Within those 700+ pages are everything needed for a major Hollywood production:   a rogue government  agency, a scrappy investigator, an innocent heroine, a band of comically stereotypical computer hackers, high-tech intrigue, staged suicides, and a trendy moral about the evils of human exploitation in a globalized world.  The only thing needed to make it a more popular blockbuster would be vampires and there’s probably someone in Hollywood right now trying to squeeze them in as well.   I haven’t watched the Swedish movie adaptations yet so I can’t comment on how well they actually translate to the silver screen.  But it seems to me that, so far as adaptations go, it would be hard to make an unsuccessful movie from these books.  Whether they will actually be good films or not, Hollywood doesn’t have a great track record.

I do hope that the casting is done very carefully.  Reading a book, especially one with intriguing characters, creates an entire cast of living, breathing beings – even if they only populate the reader’s mind.  A miscast actor or actress can shatter that world, sometimes beyond repair.  Last I heard, Daniel Craig was slated to play Mikael Blomkvist.  That seems like a decent enough choice to me.  The role of Lisbeth, however, will be much trickier.  My vote, if I had one, would go with some unknown face who could bring some grit and reality to the character.

A few weeks ago, a friend mentioned to me that it seemed ‘everyone in London is carrying around one of these three books.’  It’s easy to see why they’ve become such a literary phenomenon – despite their shortcomings, they are well-written, intelligent, and insanely addictive.

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13 comments

  1. Everyone in America seems to be carrying these around as well. Especially in my neighborhood, where Millenium fever seems to have struck! I got so many requests from people to borrow my copies that I finally bought paperbacks of the first two to loan out.

    They are addictive, aren’t they?

    nice to see you back.

  2. @manoflabook – Funny enough, I don’t even have a caffeine addiction. I steer clear of the stuff. You really didn’t need much chemical help to get you through these books. I thought the same thing about the villains, with Niederman being the most obviously cartoon-ish of the bunch. Still, a small complaint overall. Thanks for the comments!
    @Nancy – my copies are on loan right now as well, although demand here is a bit lower. Thanks for the comment, it’s good to be back 🙂

  3. I’ll second Nancy’s comment. You’ll see commuters all over Boston carrying Stieg Larsson around with them.

    My go-to is Johnny Walker but I had an amazing glass of scotch that was bottled in Colorado. Haven’t been able to find it again.

    1. Judging by sales receipts alone, I’d say that there’s a significant portion of the reading population in any city toting one of these around.
      I’m drinking the Bowmore now – wonderful. Picked it up at a duty free store in Rome and not sure I’ll be able to find another bottle. I can get the Glenlivet, however, which is not too shabby. Thanks for the comments!

    1. I hadn’t heard about Hermione, but I did hear that Scarlet Johansson was gunning for it. My reaction was about the same. After a quick Google search, however, I found that Lisbeth will be played by Rooney Mara. Don’t know anything about her which I think may be a good thing. There’s an amusing article here from the NY Times about the casting.

  4. This post makes me smile 3 times. Like you, I was very conservative about reading a book that is actually a book—until recently, when I succumbed to a Kindle for long-haul travel. My family lives in Hong Kong and for years I have lugged around stack of books when I go home to visit. Not that there aren’t bookstores in Hong Kong, but they might not have what I crave for at the right moment.

    Then I smile about my not having a copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest when I was down to the last 15 pages of The Girl Who Played with Fire, which is my favorite of the trilogy. While the final instalment is integrated into the middle volume, I was a bit disappointed that Lisbeth Salander is again resorted to the background of the whole investigation. My own explanation to that is Steig Larsson has intended 10 volumes for the series. The turnout was the last volume is predictable.

    1. Thanks for the post, Matthew. I live in Mainland China and, on visiting Hong Kong, the first thing I like to do is to go to a bookstore. It’s like an oasis after the desolate literary desert that is most of China’s cities. A close friend of mine here has already succumbed to e-book mania and I may not be too far behind. Hauling books is just such a hassle.

      I agree that I wish Lisbeth had a greater role in the third book, but in the context of the story arc, it really couldn’t have played out any other way. It would have been great to see what Larsson would have done with Mikael and Lisbeth in another seven books.

  5. I made the (I think?) lucky mistake of seeing the movies before reading the books. That being said, I was probably just as obsessed with the movies as you were with the books. Noomi Rapace, who plays Lisbeth, is unbelievable. You have to see it to believe it. And I think Michael Nyqvist does a tolerable job as Blomkvist…but he is probably bummed out that the movies kept him out of everyone’s beds except Erika’s and (in the first movie) Lisbeth’s. I tried to read the books after the movies and was…..horrifically bored. Beyond bored. Maybe because I knew the story already. Maybe because the movies pared down what I felt was a very rambling, tangential story. See the movies if you can. They’re worth it.

    Why are you living in China? Just curious.

  6. I was the opposite of you. I read the books first and then tried to watch the movies. While the acting, especially on Noomi Rapace’s part, was excellent, I found the films a bit dull because I had already gone through the books. I can see how it would work the other way as well. They’re like Dan Brown books, I think. A fun story, but no real staying power.

    I work at an English training center in Beijing. Good pay, fun job, interesting (if often frustrating) place to live.

  7. My Chinese is ok. I’ve been here a while and I regret that it’s not better than it is. But, I can carry a conversation even if my grammar and vocab leaves a lot to be desired.

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