Sunday, August 01, 2010

Popular Fictions

I don't often read popular fiction, not out of snobbishness, but because I don't get that much time to read anything, and whether its the Time Traveller's Wife or Da Vinci Code it's quite a way down my wishlist. However, I've always enjoyed a well-written thriller, and I've had Stieg Larrson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" on my shelf for a while. Though it starts slowly, with too much exposition, and a rather dull opening to do with financial accounting fraud, it soon speeds up, and I can see why it's been successful. Not reading too much crime fiction, I couldn't really say how original or otherwise the novel is, but though intricately plotted, it felt very familiar. A cold case; a missing girl; and an unlikely hero (Mikael Blomkvist, a financial reporter rather than a P.I. or policeman). Of course the novel really comes alive when the girl with the dragon tattoo herself, Lisbeth Salander, comes on the scene. She's a brilliant creation, a hacker from the wrong side of the tracks who grew up in state care, and is still, in adulthood (in a detail that seems strange to British readers) under state guardianship. The story that Blomkvist investigates has everything - its a missing girl, Harriet Vanger, who has not been seen since the day she disappeared over 40 years before. Her family, the Vangers, are a major industrialist family, but also a pack of monsters. There's Nazism, mental illness, child abuse, and much more. What Larrson does, similar to the best crime novels, is hitch an issue onto a complex detailed story. In this case it is men's violence to women (and the original title in Swedish translates as Men Who Hate Women,) and the damaged Lisbeth is as much a part of that narrative as the awful Vangers.

I guess the book is so ubiquitous - and is already one film, in Swedish, and about to become another - that none of this is a surprise. Writers like Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton get namechecked throughout the novel, and Larsson was clearly writing in style that he knew well and loved. At times the writing is very prosaic, but it does zapp along at a pace, and with it's pacing, and keen sense of place and family I was reminded as much of Stephen King's storytelling as the detective genre. The grisliness, and action, when it comes, is told sparingly, rather than wallowed in, despite its horrible nature. The story of an undisclosed serial killer - a man who hurts women - going back over decades reminded me of James Elroy's masterly The Black Dahlia. Blomkvist, reporter on the investigative magazine Millennium, is not only endearing, but a hit with the ladies, with two women who have been abused, quickly finding themselves in bed with him. This, and Lisbeth's change from socially inept mystery girl to Blomkvist's articulate confidante, raised eyebrows, but as the pace cracked on, and Larsson trawled us round his large cast of suspects, like Poirot in a country house mystery, it's undoubtedly a good read.

1 comment:

Salvatore Buttaci said...

I am an American author whose current book, a collection of 164 short-short stories, FLASHING MY SHORTS, is now available to readers in the U.K. at

Judging from the positive response here in America, I am sure you will enjoy reading FLASHING MY SHORTS by Salvatore Buttaci.