Monday, February 21, 2011

One sided, spoiler-free and incomplete issues with the Millennium trilogy

I spoke in defense of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy last month, after reading the Reading Ape's great post on the matter of the books' popularity and the criticism they often face. This time, I'm going to don the other hat and just criticize.

I'm midway through The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (at the request of a friend who wants to borrow the book ASAP) and I have to say that it's not that impressive. Granted, I never fell head-over-heels for the series. I liked the "wrong" things about it, disliked things that everyone else seemed to unequivocally love and though I was able to speed through the book, I never really felt that driving urge to read the sequels. It took me months to get to Hornet's Nest and even now I don't feel a driving need to finish. See, my issues with the series (still obviously incomplete) break down as follows:
  • Once you finish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Larsson's actual thrills become kind of... cheap. Not that they're bad quality, it's just that Larsson's method for creating a thrilling setting is by having his characters withhold information. Which, with all due respect, is a slightly bad literary method.
  • Haters of the series like to dismiss Mikael as Larsson's attempt at writing an ideal male stand-in for himself. The problem with the Millennium books is that every character is kind of like this. All characters are these clear-cut, idealistic types - either true and noble souls at their core (no matter their nastiness... that is, after all, part of their charm, so it would seem according to Larsson), or evil, corrupt and cruel deep down. You'd be hard-pressed to find middle ground in Larsson's series. Though the good people do bad things repeatedly, they are never scolded for it. The good guys' frequent moral crimes go unnoticed by the author.
  •  To continue this point, all the characters are also a little too perfect. Or, at least, the narrating characters - the noble souls. Each one is either brilliant, beautiful, powerful or talented. Or all of the above. And people repeatedly notice and mention these traits. Larsson tries so often to remind his readers of the greatness of his characters that it gets... tiring.
  •  What am I reading for? This ties into the first issue, regarding the thrills. The question of where's the story going is entirely legit and it's one that seems forsaken in Larsson's second two books. Dragon Tattoo has a plot. The story goes someplace. With Fire, the story sort of scattered and Hornet's Nest is just all over the place. I mean, obviously it's going to end up somewhere, but I've read half the book and I still have no idea what it's about. Seriously. That's not a good sign.
But it's important for me to stress the fact that I don't hate this series. I'm not a die-hard completist - I wouldn't really keep reading if it was 100% trash. While I wouldn't say that I'm exactly a Stieg Larsson fan, there are still many reasons why kept on reading. The enjoyable guilty-pleasure style is perhaps the main reason, but here I must refer you back to the beginning.

    5 comments:

    1. I know that along with other bloggers I have tried to dissect my liking for this series, because one really could nit-pick all over the place. The only thing I could come up with is love for the character of Lisbeth.

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    2. I felt this way about The Da Vinci Code, and Angels and Demons. They were a lot of fun, but I didn't feel at the end of them like I'd witnessed anything spectacular.

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    3. These books seem like a lot of fun. I read the first and will probably not read any more, but I respect them for the success Larsson has evidently had creating compelling narratives. Great post.

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    4. I thought the books were very enjoyable..not great literature, not even great thrillers in some ways, but still fun reads. And yes, it is largely about Lisbeth.

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    5. I thought The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was an enjoyable read. I liked the whole modern twist on the 'stuck on an island' who-done-it genre. But when I read the second two book, I found nothing that impressed me. It was a little too unoriginal.

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