Ian Tregillis's Reviews > Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy Deluxe Boxed Set

Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy Deluxe Boxed Set by Stieg Larsson
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Aug 19, 2010

really liked it

One year when I was in grad school, a fellow student in my program sent a ranty, invective-laden email to the entire department. (This was notable, and sticks in my memory, because usually it was the tenured faculty who wrote these tirades.) His rant had been spurred by the announcement of a new scholarship program intended to encourage more women to pursue advanced degrees in technical disciplines. His argument (as near as I (a) could figure out at the time, and (b) can remember now, since it's been a few years) wasn't simply that he felt gender-based scholarships were a form of affirmative action and that he opposed this. His argument -- sent to the entire department -- was that this sort of program was part of a secret agenda directed against all men everywhere, and that by letting this kind of thing stand, the department was tacitly supporting the complete emasculation and disempowerment of males in general. And so forth.

I had a private exchange with him, because I really couldn't believe that he meant what he'd said. (Because I'm naive.) I pointed out that his claims were insane, and offensive, and did he realize he sounded like a kook? The details of our entire exchange are unimportant, but suffice it to say that I didn't come away feeling differently about his kookiness. Especially after he tried to "help" me see that I'd been brainwashed about gender issues. Huh. So I disregarded him from then on. But his email signature noted that he was, at the time, the Executive Vice-President of the National Coalition of Free Men. A bit of digging led me to find some of his online essays, including one gem wherein he tossed around references to our culture's "headlong flight" into "Nazi-like gendercide" (which are verbatim quotes, so yes, he Godwined himself). He also compared his "spiritual and political war against masculophobia" to the cause of Mahatma Gandhi.

So, yeah, this dude had some issues. I don't know anything about the "NCFM" and can't draw opinions about its overall membership, but do I feel confident, based on several exchanges with him, that this particular guy hated women.

This past June, a news brief in the Santa Fe Reporter noted that a member of New Mexico's congressional delegation came under fire from men's rights groups for supporting the Violence Against Women Act. (According to the Reporter, this Act was proposed by Amnesty International and aims to "increase aid for women abroad and to establish State Department offices dedicated to their protection".) Among the groups attacking Representative Lujan's position on the VAWA was Abusegate, which has anonymous backers and which is closely affiliated with Men's News Daily. Another Abusegate affiliate maintains lists of companies guilty of "male bashing". (Such as KFC's pink bucket campaign against breast cancer. I assume Yoplait's similar "Save Lids to Save Lives" program has also landed them on the dreaded list.)

Anyway, the piece in the Reporter ran under the title, "Abuser's Lobby Demands Apology". Which, you know? Yeah. Kinda true.

I mention all this as a loooong and discursive means of pointing out that the original Swedish title of Stieg Larsson's first novel is "Men Who
Hate Women." To English audiences this book is, of course, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo", which is fine, but loses the whole point of the first book. I prefer the original title, because it sets a tone for the entire trilogy. I also prefer the original title because in some places the trilogy struck me as a meditation on gender relationships. (On the other hand, I think all three English titles taken together make for a better collective, at the price of perhaps overemphasizing Lisbeth Salander's role in the first book. She's the centerpiece of the second and third novels, but not the first.)

That long and discursive introduction is also my way of skating around the fact that it's been a few months since I read these books, so I've already forgotten some of the plot details. (Which is why I'm taking the easy way out by writing up my thoughts of the trilogy as a whole, rather than each individual book.)

The thing that immediately struck me when I started "Dragon Tattoo" was that the book -- especially the first hundred pages or so -- read very much like a first draft from somebody who didn't have much previous experience writing fiction novels. (I can say this because I recognize many of the same infelicities of language and technique from early drafts of my own novels. And maybe the final drafts, too.) In other words, it's clunky. Not fatally so, but a few sharp-eyed beta readers could have done wonders for ironing out these books. (The style improves steadily through the trilogy, but not without hiccups.) And that's a shame, because there's a really good story here, and some terrific characters, but they're hobbled by the presentation. Larsson had important and entertaining things to say, but he just didn't say them as clearly as he might have.

These books completely ignore the usual rules of thumb pertaining to the "proper" use of point of view, and blatantly disregard the standard wisdom about starting with backstory (namely, don't). The plotting (particularly in "Fire" and "Hornet's Nest") relies upon coincidence more than it should. And the vast majority of the protagonists' character development is told rather than shown or demonstrated.

I find that last point particularly interesting because the thing most people point to when raving about these books are the characters. Particularly Lisbeth Salander, the emotionally borderline, supersmart, "punk pixie" computer hacker. And yeah, she's a very interesting character. Thing of it is, Larsson spends page after page in "Dragon Tattoo" telling us how interesting she is before we ever actually see her, you know, be interesting. It nearly turned me off further reading. Which would have been a shame, because I would have missed out on a good story.

"Dragon Tattoo" is a self-contained story hinging on the investigation of a forty year old "cold case". I found the mystery fascinating (I don't
read many mysteries) and I thought Larsson introduced the central mystery to absolutely terrific effect in a brief, four-page prologue. But it takes a while to get back to what's presented in the prologue, because the next hundred or so pages wander all over the place before settling down.

(All three of the Millenium books are considerably longer than they needed to be. As I said, they read like first drafts. And pretty damn good first drafts, for all that, but damn how I wish they could have been tighter.)

But. On the other hand, these books are huge international megabestsellers. So what does that mean? I think it means one doesn't have to write to please other writers in order to become mind-bogglingly successful. And in fact, when you get right down to it, who cares what other writers think? It's the readers who want to fall inside a good story, who feel connections with the characters, who'll make a writer's career. So who cares if the first half of "Dragon Tattoo" reads like Larsson couldn't settle on his PoV characters? Who cares if "Fire" and "Hornet's Nest" are hobbled by a completely unnecessary subplot that only serves to bloat the books? (And which might never have been part of the story if, in fact, the books had exhibited more control over PoV in the first place.)

These are fiction novels and they did what they were supposed to do. They entertained me, and they made me think, and they made me uncomfortable in places.

Once I got past my initial snobbery, I found the stories damn interesting and the characters compelling. I like Lisbeth Salander because she's smart, tough as coffin nails, and doesn't mess around. I like Mikael Blomkvist because he's dogged and determined. I like it when they team up to take down people who seriously deserve it.

And, because I'd grown attached to them, I was pulled right along when Salander dances on a frying pan in "Fire" and dives headfirst into the furnace in "Hornet's Nest". (And, because I didn't start reading the trilogy until just before the third novel was published here in America, I wasn't put out by the fact that "Fire" is not a self-contained story like "Dragon Tattoo". Also, people had warned me about this. The second Millennium book ends on a painful cliffhanger, and I'm glad I didn't have to wait for the resolution.)

These books made my commute considerably shorter. And if they ever do finish that fragment of the fourth Millennium book Larsson started before his death, I'll buy it. Because even if the writing isn't terrific, the story is bound to hook my interest.
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Susan (new)

Susan What a review! The opening rant = funny and frightening.

Your analysis of the novels entices me to read them -- I have to admit I've avoided this series simply *because*... No valid reason, but I'll look into them now. Maybe my library will have a copy in English. Vielleicht.

And your bit about writers entertaining readers is spot on. Look at Harry Potter, for example. Lots of "mistakes" but the readers don't give a damn (me included).

Thanks for the entertaining review!

message 2: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Tregillis The silver lining on my interaction with Mr. Executive Vice-President is that it gave the other students in my department a bushel basket of handy catch phrases. For instance, if I had a disagreement with my advisor, it was because I was standing up against our research group's "headlong flight into Nazi-like science-cide."

And I wasn't kidding about the faculty members and their ranty emails. One guy in particular took it upon himself every year to tell everyone in the astro department that he was the only person doing "bona fide astrophysics". Another source of useful catch phrases, that guy.

Oh, the good old days of grad school.

But anyway, yeah. The only thing that really matters is whether a novel works for the readers who open it. Writers notice tons of stuff that regular readers don't care about, and shouldn't. Kind of a bummer for us writers. We're a tough audience.

message 3: by Manny (new)

Manny "Headlong flight into Nazi-like gendercide" is a wonderful phrase. I had to google the National Coalition of Free Men to convince myself you hadn't made it up.

I've just been propagandising for Liza Marklund - posted two reviews in the last two days. If you liked the antimisogynistic aspects of the Larsson trilogy, you might want to check her out. She deserves to be better known outside Scandinavia.

message 4: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Tregillis I googled it myself the other night, just to convince myself I hadn't made it up, but yep, it's there. And yep, they really do talk that way. The thing I admire most about the "Nazi-like gendercide" phrase is its restraint. It gets the point across delicately, without going over the top.

I am completely new to Liza Marklund, but now that you've pointed out your reviews, I'm going to check out her work. Thanks!

message 5: by Corry (new)

Corry L. My grad school experience is clearly being far too tame. Wow.

Great review. I do often wish I could pull out of my writer brain for a while and ignore all those issues that seem not to make most readers growl and throw the book across the room. But throwing books can be satisfying, too.

message 6: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Tregillis It cuts both ways, too. If I'm not gnashing my teeth at something I find really clunky, I'm weeping in despair at knowing I'll never write anything so lovely or powerful or clever. It's hard to turn off that writer brain.

message 7: by Miriam (new)

Miriam National Coalition of Free Men

I would have looked innocent and asked if that had something to do with Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men.

message 8: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Tregillis Miriam wrote: "I would have looked innocent and asked if that had something to do with Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men."

I wish I had thought of that.

message 9: by Tiziana (new)

Tiziana That was the longest and most entertaining review I've read... I was wonderibg where you were going with yiur grad school story

message 10: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Tregillis Thank you! That grad school thing was kind of a strange and eye-opening experience for me, but at least I got something useful out of it :)

Jeremy I guess, with the original title you can take this book as a comment on gender relationships, however, I think it goes beyond that and the US title is more enticing. The mental filter I read the book with led me to enjoy the conspiracy the most (A plot point completely destroyed by the movies btw). I like to think about the struggle between individual freedoms and national security. Even one person, unnecessarily subjected to this strong of an injustice for the greater good is unacceptable. And, as is usually the case, it ended up costing more to clean up the mess than it was worth. I loved all the themes of the books, but everyone knows that Stieg had issues with women and this is his way of dealing. Having said that, your school mate was a nut. Organized people for an agenda is rarely a good idea.

message 12: by Marcus (new) - added it

Marcus excellent review. and yes the first 50-100 pages are dreadfully slow

False Clunky first half draft? I think Larsson before this was published. It wasnt a complete work either so i guess it was published as they found it.

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