It was about a year ago that I got myself an iTouch, and at some point I also got the iBook app. (They were giving away Winnie The Pooh.) Then Kelly got a Kindle, so I got that app too. Once I had successfully read a few books on the gadget, I got myself a third book-reading app so I could experiment with downloading books from the BC Libraries without Walls program.
I started this phase of the experiment with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy–the trio that ends with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I knew the database would have them all, I figured they would be fast easy reads, and I was betting I’d never want to own them. All of that, as it turned out, was true.
I have been mustering up a post about what makes a book good. Not okay, not good enough, but good. And this Larsson trilogy falls into the category of books I liked a lot that are not, strictly speaking, good. In this case, that means they have terrific stories and poor prose.
This isn’t just my opinion. Others have pointed out that in translation (and possibly in the original) these books have a clunky prose style. June Casagrande does an interesting edit on the opening passage of the third book, and Nora Ephron makes great fun of the series in The New Yorker. The points made in both articles are valid, but I have no real problem with liking a bad book (or TV show, or movie) now and then. In this case, Larsson’s protagonist and her story pulled me in. It was a tour around the bureaucratic backroads of a foreign country.
I was particularly intrigued by the weird legal situation that Lisbeth Salander is in as the series begins. She’s in her twenties but she’s also trapped in an odd sort of reversed emancipated minor status. Emancipated minors can act as adults in some cases, even though they aren’t legally of age. Lisbeth, meanwhile, is an adult in fact but a dependent minor in the eyes of the System, and she has a court-appointed guardian.
There must be a comparable structure here in Canada and in the U.S., but I have never seen it used in fiction. And it is a great obstacle for a character, especially a socially awkward one, to be stuck with–the threat of being institutionalized hovers over Lizbeth’s every move.
I liked the cluster of allies Lisbeth gathers, somewhat against her will, and the way each novel ends with a gory explosion of violence and crushing public exposure of the bad guys. I like the examination of the role of the media in making big crime stories, and the glimpse of Swedish constitutional law, and the fact that Larsson clearly had it in, bigtime, for homophobes and racists and human smugglers and guys who batter women.
Finally, I have to say that it didn’t hurt that the phrase “lesbian satanist bikers” pops up on every third page of the last two books.