I have never really written a book review before. I’m not excluding it from ever happening, but I’m also not quite saying that this is one. I’m just gonna talk about something that’s brought me a ridiculous amount of enjoyment since March when I picked up the first book in this series of novels; the Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson. I’ll just take the time to mention now that there will be spoilers within. Not plot shattering spoilers, but definitely smaller, character driven, spoilers. Henceforth, avert your eyes thus you be spoiled.
When I visited my sister in February she was reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I had never heard of it. It had been passed to her from her boss, I believe, and she’d picked it up because she felt obligated, boss and all. While I was there she could hardly put it down. Now, I have to say here that she did a much more commendable job of it than I would have since I was pretty much glued to my sofa during the course of my reading. I’m not a person who often finds themselves glued to mystery novels. Mostly because I don’t particular read mystery novels. It’s nothing against the genre; it’s just that it is one. In general, I don’t read genre fiction. I think that this is probably a bit snobbish of me. But I’m a victim of a private school education, and then I was an English major with a focus area in Creative Writing. No one wrote genre fiction, these were literature classes. That was said in a sort of sarcastic tone that you can’t hear cause, well, you’re reading this. It’s sarcastic, but it’s not, cause at one point someone did turn in a bit of Sci-Fi. Now, I’m a Sci-Fi fan. Mock me if you like but you know we’re a powerful group. Anyway, then, my Sci-Fi knowledge pretty much starts and ends with television and movies. At this point in my life I had never read a proper Science Fiction book, nor did I ever have any intention of it. And, mind, we were writing short stories. It’s difficult to create the sort of world you need to create for a Sci-Fi story within the confines of ten to twenty pages. At least not for a group who have never experienced Sci-Fi before. Seriously, the professor had to quietly say that it was an excellent story, but that we shy away from genre fiction here.
So it certainly wasn’t because it promised to be a cracking mystery that I picked up the first of the Millennium Trilogy. The Millennium Trilogy consists of the books The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
The stories center around two characters. Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist who, as the first book begins, is facing a libel conviction against a famous industrialist. And, Lisbeth Salander, a socially indifferent, deeply withdrawn, tattooed and pierced computer hacker getting by day to day as a private investigator for a security company. Both are deeply flawed and wildly different, but together they make a team that could make any criminal wary. Blomkvist, due to the investigative part of his job title, earned himself the nickname Kalle Blomkvist (Bill Bergson to any English speaking fans), the name of Astrid Lindgren’s boy detective. Salander is often compared to Lindgren’s more famous character, Pippi Longstocking. It’s a personal theory of mine that Larsson wondered what it would be like if Kalle Blomkvist and Pippi Longstocking grew up and met, and then decided to write a book about it.
Steig Larsson was a journalist himself and founder of the Swedish Expo Foundation, the goal of which was, according to Expo’s official website, to “counteract the growth of the extreme right and the white power-culture in schools and among young people.” I’m not going to sit here and pretend to know a lot of about Swedish politics. Honestly, along with most people I know, my knowledge of Sweden extends about as far as Ingmar Bergman was willing to take me. Which is to say… not much. And certainly not recent. I can, however, say a few trusty phrases, such as Jag äter mat and Jag älskar dig… neither of which will help me very much with a casual visit to Sweden. Anyway, hardly the point. It wasn’t until his career was established in journalism that Larsson decided to write novels. Sadly, he died before any of them were published.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, published originally as Män som hatar kvinnor (translated to Men Who Hate Women) is the stand alone novel of the bunch. It has its own contained story with a beginning middle and end. While you feel as if you could read more of these characters, the story is over and you’re satisfied. I find this happens a lot with trilogies. The fist can usually exist without the others. I think there are two reasons for this. One is, clearly, sales. In case it doesn’t sell, publishers (or movie executives as the case may be) don’t want to release something with an open ending. Another reason, and one I think it probably the more likely of the two to apply here, is that the author wrote a cracking story with amazing characters and wasn’t quite ready to let them go. And thank god he wasn’t because neither was I.
The second two installments in what Larsson named the Millennium Trilogy (Millennium being the name of the magazine created and operated by Blomkvist and his on again off again lover, Erika Berger) are much more in depth and delve into the story of the titular character in the first novel; Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo.
The Girl Who Played with Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden) finds her accused of triple murder and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, aka Luftslottet som sprängdes (The Air Castle that Blew Up) goes deeper into the consquesnce and conspiracy that were introduced in the pervious novel. The second two don’t stand alone; they are direct lines of each other, the third starting mere moments after the second ends.
One completely random thing bears mentioning, not because I’m criticizing, though I could do, but more because I find it to be completely hilarious. When the first book starts Blomkvist is casually been sleeping with Berger for around twenty years. He was married for a time, but found he couldn’t stop sleeping with the woman, she’s married now, but lives in an arrangement where her husband understands that she loves him, but can not control her animal passion for Blomkvist. I can see how people would raise their eyebrows at this arrangement, but I really didn’t. You meet all types in books and just because I don’t know anyone who does, or could, live under these circumstances doesn’t really mean that I can’t imagine them, because I can. And like I said, books take all kinds. So, Blomkvist has a casual relationship with Berger. Then, about halfway through Dragon Tattoo he takes up a relationship with Cecelia Vanger. She pretty much sets the rules, it’s casual, no one should be told, etc. But they carry on for long enough that she, in the most womanly manner, begins to have feelings for him. She never mentions these feelings, but ends the encounters. Blomkvist isn’t fazed. Then he engages in another sexual relationship with Lisbeth Salander, with very similar results; she develops feelings, never tells him, and despises him for them. Going into the second book Blomkvist is already in a secret sexual relationship with a minimal character from the first book. Thankfully this time neither of them seems to have serious feelings for the other and simply enjoy each other physically, while still having a deep respect for the other as a person. I say thankfully cause his last liaison is still not speaking to him, and he was no idea why. He sticks with Berger at least, until the next book when he, again, becomes casually involved with Monika Figuerola before the later starts to fall in love with him and he, finally, is not all that opposed. Though, seriously, he does give her a disclaimer about how he probably will slip up and sleep with Berger again.
That’s five women in three books. He gets considerably more play in the first novel, with three women joining him in bed, with an addition of only one per book in the second two. Probably because Dragon Tattoo takes place over the course of a year where he’s shacked up in a freezing cabin and not investigating it up in Stockholm the way he is the later two. What I want to know is; where is he finding these woman who fall so easily into bed with him and nod with the understanding that this ‘relationship’ is really not a relationship at all. I’m not saying that a man and a woman can’t have casual sex, not by any means. What’s astounding to me is the volume of casual sex this character seems to have. I mean, he has an arrangement that pretty much guarantees he’ll get some if he asks his business partner to give him a night. Sure, Berger has a say in the matter and everything, but still. What’s more is his complete obliviousness to what this is doing to the women. Here’s a tip to any male readers reading this; if you’re having ‘casual sex’ with a woman and she starts acting weird, withdraws a little, says she’s busy a little too often she’s fallen for you and she knows you don’t feel the same. Simple as that. Seriously, don’t be a Blomkvist. I loved him as a character, but after his track record… let’s just say I wish Figuerola well, but I hope she doesn’t get her hopes up too high. Still, let me be clear; I’m not judging Blomkvist, I couldn’t be more impressed if he were a real person.
And then, of course, because they are successful books that have sold millions of copies in multiple countries; there are films. Three films based on the three books were already produced and released in Sweden, by the company Yellow Bird.
The first film was shown in theatres and the second two on television. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo saw a release in the United States as well. The second two are said to be hitting stateside in the autumn. I’ve seen them all, and I have to say that I was pretty impressed. These are very detailed books, with a lot of subplots and twisting plot devices. It would be impossible to pack everything that exists in each book into a movie. The first time I watched Dragon Tattoo I was a little annoyed because of changes that were made. Some of them didn’t seem necessary, and others didn’t sit well simply because they were different. But I watched it again and realized that it was beautifully done. The imagery is gorgeous, and there’s nothing essential to the plot that doesn’t make it in. There are characters omitted and instances unseen, but books and movies are different mediums; things have to change. The Girl Who Played with Fire is undoubtedly the weakest of the bunch, with a major element in the novel being glazed over to focus on characters we’ve met already and therefore to whom we are more attached. It’s still a very fine film that keeps the feel and basics intact. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest also changes elements, but remains a very good example of successfully filming a script based on a novel. I’ll refrain from specifics.
The films performed very well in Sweden and the first when it was released in the United States so, of course, Hollywood wants a piece. Apparently an American version is in the works. I’m ambivalent about this. It’s possible that Hollywood could destroy this story, strip away it’s complexities, and churn forth a tepid adaptation that leaves fans to scoff and critizes Hollywood, yet again. But, it could be good. There are some big names rumored to be involved and that’s not always a bad thing. Point is, I’m not going to blabber and moan about it when I haven’t seen the finished product, or any evidence of destruction yet. When its cast, filmed, and released, then we can bitch about it. I promise. I do wonder, however, if they plan on changing the setting. It seems to be Hollywood’s typical move to keep American versions of things in America. But I feel as if the setting, of at least the first book, is almost as much a character as the actual characters. I’ll hold off judging either way, but I would like it if they keep it in Sweden.
So what’s the point of all this? Why did I feel the need to write several pages on these three books? Why did I spend more time talking about Blomkvist’s love life than anything else? Well there’s no clear answer for the last question except for the fact that it amuses me to no end, but the answer to the former questions are simply this; to get you to read them. Because you should.