Monday, June 14, 2010

What’s in a name? A heck of a lot.

We have discussed on this blog before the Millennium trilogy by Steig Larsson. These books have truly been an international publishing sensation. I am about half way through the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. I am enjoying it and reading quickly.

Somethings have come to mind while reading it. First of all, I’m glad it didn’t come to me for critiquing. In a lot of ways the book is really not that well written.

For example, there is a lot of unnecessary repetition.

“This is what I want you to do.”
Blomkvist leaned forward and explained his plan.

The second sentence has no purpose. It’s totally redundant and even weakens the impact of the first sentence.

No one simply has a computer, they have an ibook or a Palm Tungsten T3 hand held computer. Okay, I guess it’s okay mention that once or twice, the book is about computer hackers. But every single time the computer is used, we need the full name?

Backstory. Everything you ever wanted to know about the post-war history of the Swedish Secret Police is provided for you. As is a four page explanation of the workings of the Swedish construction industry particularly as it relates to toilets. No those aren’t footnotes, that’s all part of the narrative.

The setting is almost totally unimportant. There is nothing here that gives you a feeling of being in Sweden. You could be almost anywhere in Europe, even in North America. Note to beginning writers: A listing of street names does not provide a sense of place.

Yet the books work. And therein lies the question. Why do they work?

I’d suggest it has everything to do with the characters. The central character Lisbeth Salander is intricate, fascinating, troubled. An anti-social genius. But she is also highly vulnerable. She does not want to be vulnerable, yet she is as human as the rest of us.

Blomkvist is intensely loyal. To his friend, Lisbeth, his colleagues. His political beliefs. By the beginning of Hornets’ Nest everyone who believes in Salander is coming together. Ready to fight for her. Even against the forces of the state and the secret police.

Don’t we all want to believe if we were in trouble we’d have people on our side?

There is one thing I suspect that has an effect on the popularity of the books which doesn’t get much mention. They are extremely feminist.

Not just in the way that Salander is presented. The theme of violence against women and men’s acceptance of it runs through all the books. The way that Salander’s father got away with beating her mother for years because he was of value to the police.

The opening page of Hornets’ Nest begins with a discussion of the role of women as warriors historically.

Don’t see that every day.

But particularly in the smallest of things, the books are feminist and the author obviously so. Women are ‘people’ in the books. How many movies can you think of where every role is played by a man except for one sexy woman? Thousands. In most popular culture men play men and people, yet women only play women. i.e. they are given roles that can only be played by a woman such as the love interest, yet men get roles that can be anyone.

The editor of Millennium is a woman, Salander’s lawyer is a woman, one of the police officers who most believes in Salander’s innocence is a woman, minor characters such as senior reporters on the paper are women.

They, like all the male characters, are referred to by their last names. I simply can not stand books in which the male lead is Jones and the female lead is Mary. Happens all the time. One of the most obvious, and I hate to say it because I love his books, is Peter Robinson. Inspector Alan Banks is constantly referred to as Banks, Sergeant Annie Cabot is always Annie.

Happens all the time, and in more books than I can mention.

When I began the Constable Molly Smith series I made a conscious point of the main characters being Smith and Winters. Not Molly and Winters. They call each other by their first names but the narrator (i.e. me) refers to them by their last names.

Think I’m quibbling? I think it signals the author’s attitude towards women that he or she might not even be aware they are expressing.

You might also think it doesn’t matter.

I think that with 20 million books sold, and counting, Steig Larsson might disagree.


Clea Simon said...

I agree with you about his characters - but I wish his basic plots were better! Read the first book because of all the fuss. Loved the characters. Predicted the ending from around page 20 (whenever we first learned about the annual flowers). Would our editor let us get away with that? I don't think so.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

Great post, Vicki! I am very jealous of Stieg Larson, except for the dead part.

Vicki Delany said...

We could certainly also discuss how important being dead is to his success.

Rick Blechta said...

You're not suggesting...?

Anonymous said...

The Saville Report has proved at long last what we have all known for nearly 40 years. The British army murdered innocent Cahtolics in Ireland on Bloody Sunday. David Cameron has apologized. Easy to do after all this time, you snotty little Oxford graduate, spoiled brat of the establishment. If you're really sorry, give Ireland back to the Irish. We didn't want you 200 years ago and we don't want you today. There is no form of life lower than a Northern Ireland protestant who supports the British occupation of our land. GOD HATES PROTESTANTS!

jrlindermuth said...

I loved the books and I think you're right,Vicki--it's the characters who kept us turning pages.
As to the reduncancy amd some of the other issues--I wonder how much can be blamed on problems of translation? I'm not saying Reg Keeland was at fault (don'tknow the man); just acknowledging the difficulties of clarity in translation.

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I didn't know that. It's always good to learn new things, I say.

And speaking of learning new things, you might want to learn how to spell, type, and express yourself in appropriate ways — and in appropriate places, too, for that matter.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Good points, Vicki. Especially about the attitudes toward women. Hey, what's with Anonymous? Get with the topic already.

Donis Casey said...

The way Larsson writes women is one of the most appealing things about his books as far as I'm concerned. The Swedish title of his first book translates to "The Man Who Hated Women", as I'm sure you know.

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Anonymous said...

I liked the first two books significantly more then this book. I think Larsson could have just posted the this installment in about 200 pages or so.

The character development is significant in all three books. The feminist tie is possible, but the anti-social/hacker personality coupled with the victim-who-won't-be-a-victim persona makes Elisabeth Salander an enjoyable character. She stands up for herself. Contrast her to Berger for strong female role model...

Take is a step further and look at Figerola. She'll fall for anyone - Blumqvist, specifically. She's a strong female character???

I think what makes this work is Larssons ability to tell a good story and keep the reader going. 560 is really long for this book, but I'm still very glad a read the series and would recommend it for a good read.

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