Thursday, October 08, 2009

The girl who played with fire

In view of the favourable, but mixed, reaction that I had to Stieg Larsson's first book, "The girl with the dragon tattoo" (GDT), I decided to purchase and read its followup, "The girl who played with fire" (GPF). In retrospect, I wish that I hadn't bothered. The good parts of GFT far outweighed its flaws, but there's no way that I can say that about GPF. This book is in sore need of an editor, and unfortunately it's far too late for that.

Again, I am torn between holding back the spoilers for those who have not read the book, and giving specific examples of poor editing. When I write "editing", I don't mean copy editing, which is a technical function, but rather the equivalent of what a record producer does: gives the raw material a direction, chops out the irrelevant and sequences the raw material in the best order possible.

The first two hundred pages (approximately) are almost totally irrelevant to the rest of the book. The material about Salander would be better served by placing it in a collection of novellas and removing it from this book; it feels like a warm-up exercise and has no part in GPF. I am reminded of the late Roger Zelazny who prior to beginning a novel would write short stories about his main characters in order to get a feel for them. These pages give one the (post-reading) feeling that Larsson was making the whole thing up as he went along, and inserted events (or "hooks", as the musician or computer scientist might call them) as they occurred to him. If later events revolve around prior knowledge which is given by these hooks, then the reader feels satisfied, but if the hooks are left unresolved, then the feeling is awkward. I found myself reading the opening pages wondering where the events described would lead, and in the end, they led absolutely nowhere.

I find myself comparing the structure of (the rest of) the book to that of a police procedural. Such books generally begin with a murder, and then focus on the detective's attempts to solve the crime. Had GPF began with the murders and then focused on the detective team's attempts, then it would have been on more solid ground (and perhaps more predictable). Larsson makes the book extremely complicated by having three (or even four) different teams trying to solve the murders and it makes for exceedingly complicated reading, whilst dissipating the thrust of the story. Where was Salander all the time her liberally enhanced sordid past was being splashed over all the newspapers in Sweden?

I sincerely hope that Swedish policemen are more professional than some of those portrayed in this book, as their attitude towards someone who is supposed to be a witness and possibly a suspect is remarkably tabloid (and some of the policemen's attitude towards one character who wasn't even a witness was deplorable).

After a while, the police procedural theme disappears and the book becomes more of a crime thriller, at which point any points which the book might have accrued slip away with remarkable speed. There are still unresolved hooks spread around (for example, those connected with Erika Berger) which dilute the story's impact.

In order to check the book's literary style, I opened the book a few times at random. The first thing that I noticed was that most of the pages were written in direct conversation between characters; the second was that the non-literal descriptions were sorely lacking in adjectives. This gives the prose a very straight-forward and brisk attitude but it doesn't make reading it a pleasure.

On the basis of GPF, I can't see myself reading the third part of the "Millenium trilogy", "The girl who kicked the hornets' nest". I would probably see any film made from these stories but I won't be investing any more money or time in these books.

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