The writer who kicked the “meh” out of me.

December 1, 2011

I closed a chapter of my life this week. And by that I mean I finally finished reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. It only seemed like it took a lifetime to struggle through to the end.

Call me a silly optimist, but I tend to go into movies or start books with a fervent desire that the time I’m about to invest in them will be worth the effort.

The restricted version of the poster for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that won't be coming to a theatre near you.

On far too many occasions, however, I’ve emerged on the other side with a “meh” shrug of indifference, neither the journey nor the destination having lived up to expectations.

That’s is how I felt about Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. While I wasn’t overwhelmed by the same tsunami of hype that accompanied The Da Vinci Code (the sound and fury of which cleverly masked what was, ultimately, poorly-written tripe), I’d heard enough positives about the late Swedish writer’s books to give them a go.

Certainly the timing was right – I was, after all, living by myself on a tropical island where the absence of a TV and evenings that plunged into darkness by 7:30 provided the perfect inducement for cracking open a book.

There was a time, when I was much younger and my responsibilities did not extend much beyond finishing homework, where I would cruise through two books a week. My nose buried in the pages, the rest of the world went by unnoticed, so engrossed was I in the adventures of Biggles or John Carter of Mars or whichever unfortunate character happened to be fleeing from Stephen King’s latest monster.

There was no cruising when it came to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or The Girl Who Played With Fire or The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

Larsson’s books are corpulent with details (not the least of which must be every street name in Sweden) and littered with characters, most of whom are of the minor variety and not worth remembering. Did I mention that all their names sounded the same after a while?

While Dragon Tattoo at least had a mystery – albeit a fairly pedestrian one – at its core, the other two were about, well, I’m not really sure, to tell the truth.

Larsson, a journalist by trade, had a few cats to kick as far as the Swedish government was concerned and he gets so busy taking shots at every institution or group or agency that pissed him off that he seems to have forgotten that he’s brought a reader along for the ride.

The plots are needlessly convoluted, the characters little more than ciphers: mouths Larsson uses to spout his theories, the majority of which are of the conspiracy variety.

Much has been made about how fascinating a character is Lisbeth Salander. Tattooed, pierced, ambivalent when it comes to bedmates, a brilliant computer hacker. Violent and, at times, bat-shit crazy.

She should have grabbed me by the balls, or at least the throat. And yet I never felt she came alive for me. Probably because Larsson insisted on abandoning her in dark corners for long periods of time, especially in the final volume.

She is a one-trick pony, a carnival freak show.

It took me so long to slog through the books, the act of reading so onerous at times, that I never felt swept along by the flow of Larsson’s narrative current.

I was bored. OK, there, I said it.

And that’s the real crime of the Millennium Trilogy.

Let me add this sidebar: During an online creative writing course I took from New Zealand writer Jill Marshall, she asked her students to submit the first thousand words of whatever piece we were working on. I sent her the first chapter of The Blue Beneath, the sequel to Brown Girls.

One of the notes Jill sent back was to caution me to be very careful about using too many different character viewpoints.

Read Larsson and you’ll note how he changes point-of-view willy-nilly, often from one paragraph to the next.

And yet he still became a best-selling writer.

Which leads me to this obvious conclusion: one of my characters needs a tattoo and a nose ring.

I can already hear the cash registers ringing.


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