The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest
By Stieg Larsson, 2010
Some professional book blogger was telling me that the reason the Larsson trilogy is so popular--and yes, that's the original definition of popular, the one you're only supposed to pull out for Harry Potter and Twilight level shit--was because the author was dead. I disagreed: the reason these books are sorely in need of meat cleaver editing is because the author is dead. The reason they're popular is because they're Swedish crime thrillers, which are unexplainably hip right now, and because they have an interesting character that a lot of readers want to keep up with, regardless of what surrounds that character. That doesn't mean Lisbeth Salander is unique--as was pointed out to me by some actual professional crime-writer dudes, there are plenty of successful serials that focus on female protagonists who have suffered some manner of sexual assault and now devote most of their waking hours to hunting down a bunch of over-the-top rape-crazy molestation freaks. (Which she really only does in the first book, but that's how they hook you.) I haven't read them, they have, there's apparently a whole field of this kind of stuff, and some of them are supposedly pretty good. (And of course, there's Andrew Vachss, who--really, never mind. Fuck that guy's books. It's cool that he devotes so much of his money and time to fighting actual child exploitation, but his books are garbage, gross-out rip-off books that keep going "look at how hard this little kid was fucking raped before he was double raped and dismembered by rapists" and when you react, like a normal person, by saying "shit man, is there going to be a plot here or is just a bunch of hammy noir cliches leading up to more kiddie and lady rape scenes" he gets all condescending and says "i guess some people just can't handle real life" which is--gimme a fucking break, creep. A bunch of horrifying evil shit being done to innocent women and children strung together between extreme-o updates on Westlake and Chandler riffs isn't "a brutal confrontation with the realness of reality" anymore than it would be if I started slicing on my testicles with a steak knife right when my dad starts to carve the turkey on Thanksgiving. "C'mon papa. Why you so repressed? I'm just showing you the dark side of this special day."
[In other words, Larsson's publishers has better p.r. agents than other people's publishers, is the point of all that. Also Andrew Vachss irritates me is the other point. Two points!]
Here's the thing: if you've read the first two books in Larsson's "Millennium Trilogy", you're clearly going to want to read this third one. (It is called that because Larsson didn't realize that people only wanted to read about his autistic savant bisexual pierced Olympic-level kickboxing female character, he believed they'd be more excited about his long boring ass subplots about a magazine, and not just any regular dentist office magazine, but the Martin Luther King/Jesus Christ/Superman of change-the-world-for-a-better-place magazine, and that magazine is called "Millennium". I think Larsson expected people to hang out at bookstores and be all like "man, I wish that magazine was real, we wouldn't need to worry about oil spills or 85 Mexican people dying in one day if there was a magazine like that." Seriously, each book ends with the magazine unleashing this amazing issue that totally blows the entire reading population's minds and then there's a part where the writer goes on television and then Larsson tells you how the newscaster who interviewed the magazine guy won some Television Journalism award just for talking to the dude about his magazine article, and the way it's written you can tell this is supposed to be supremely satisfying, because hey: nothing changes the world like a local newscaster winning a journalism award.)
Confession: I knew this was going to be a piece of shit! I bought it at a store where they don't know me personally, because I didn't want my new friends at the cool store I normally buy these kinds of books at to think I was a sucker like all the other suckers. (This actually backfired on me, because it turns out I am already considered a douchebag because I am a big Martin Beck fan and they all think he is overrated and boring.)
In My Defense: I don't have one, but it seriously only takes like six hours to read one of these books, and I bet you've blown eighteen hours on something you knew wasn't very good just because you wanted to find out how it ended. And if you haven't, you're doing it right now so HA HA on YOU
[Since this is turning into one of those only-allowable-on-the-internet style things, here is some useless information: the original Swedish title of this book is "The Air Castle That Was Blown Up". Some credit is deserved for not using that title.]
One thing is for sure. You'd have to be completely mental to care at all about the other primary character in these books, the Mikael Blomkvist character. He's an obvious author substitute (Stieg Larsson was a writer for a magazine that apparently changes the world into a better place all the time over in Sweden), who becomes a laughable middle aged Don Juan fantasy by the middle of the first book, a smirk-inducing cartoon by the second, and in the third, when he's run out of shit to do but wander from bed to bed through a succession of awestruck women who just can't get enough of his pudgy chalk-white body and prissy complaints that he "doesn't want to be tied down to a relationship", you're just greeting him with a grimace, but not the like the Grimace guy from McDonald's who I still think is a pretty great mascot and wish they would use more often. We got it, Stieg. You wanted to have sex with every woman you met, ever, regardless of age, appearance, intelligence, humor, likability, any actual human characteristics if we're being honest--if they were a woman, you wanted to rub your flaccid muscles all over them in hotel rooms they rented for you to do so in, and then you wanted to have pillow talk about how awesome you were in bed.
[Supposedly, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt and George Clooney all want to play the part of Mikael Blomkvist in the upcoming American remix of the Swedish films. If that happens, then maybe they can make the constant bedhopping stuff believable, but it still seems pretty g-d unlikely that there's going to be an American movie where the main male character has seven to nine sexual trysts with different female partners, even if they make the films three hours long, which is what the Swedish ones will be when they come out on DVD. That doesn't leave a whole lot of time for whatever female actress they get to play Lisbeth, and you should remember: she is the only thing that is interesting about these books. It will be pretty funny if David Fincher does actually make the movie (although he probably will choose not to as that will interrupt his favorite hobby, which is thinking about making movies but not making them) because the Swedish films were made by directors who have clearly only seen one movie in their entire life, and that movie was directed by David Fincher and was called Se7en.]
Okay, if you've made it this far you don't care about spoilers and you want to know what's up with Lisbeth. "What's up with Lisbeth?", I can hear you. After all, the second book ended with her on the way to the hospital after being buried alive, which was actually an accident because the people who buried her alive (her father and super-human half-brother) had gone to the trouble of shooting her in the head and shoulder first. (They thought that would kill her, but Stieg Larsson's clearly well-researched version of autism hardens the brain and shoulder against bullets. I guess?)
So here you are, a Lisbeth Salander-interested type person, you've got yourself all steeled up to tolerate the full page descriptions of what characters are wearing (which always precede the part where Stieg explains who these characters are, meaning you get full fashion descriptions including t-shirt and shoe color before you get the "she is a cop" or "he is a spy" kind of information), you're fully aware that Blomkvist is probably going to get lots of lady loving in while passive-aggressively telling his conquests about how many other women he will be conquesting later (to which they always sigh and get kind of like "oh well, you foxy overweight writer, you're worth the heartache"--you're ready, you're prepared. Book three. Bring it on mother grabber.
Here's the math. For the first 80% of the book, Lisbeth Salander is in a hospital bed. For half of that 80%, she plays with a smartphone that has internet access. For the next 5% of the book, she sits in a courtroom wearing "shocking" goth outfits that were dated even before 1996's Antichrist Superstar tour. For another 5% of the book, she gets really drunk and fulfills the masturbation fantasies of middle-aged married male business travelers. (By picking them up, telling them she doesn't care if they're married, and then by fucking their brains out on their schedule.) And then, right there at the end, she gets in a death duel with one of the X-Men (his mutant powers include having the strength of an army of gorillas and being "impervious to physical pain"), and then she balks at finishing the gig herself.
And so the story concludes, happily, because Blomkvist shows up at her house with some take-out food and she gives him a big old hug. The fight and the reunion take up the last 10%, so that's where it ends.
So yeah, I don't know why these are popular. It sure isn't because they're awesome.
-Tucker Stone, 2010