Friday, October 16, 2009

The end of the Millennium (trilogy that is), by Stieg Larsson

Echoing some other reviewers who have recently posted about The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, I'll reiterate that it is a most peculiar book. It's also very difficult to say anything at all about it without giving something away, so Beware of Spoilers! in this or any other review you might read. I'll try not to give too much away though. In my earlier post I remarked on the huge amount of detail and asked if the book might have benefited from editing; having finished the book now, I must say that editing would have been difficult and possibly beside the point--the book is almost entirely made up of detail and repetition, and Larsson's remarkable feat is to keep pulling the reader along amid that sea of minutia, while not very much is actually happening. In fact (first spoiler alert) the book is well over halfway along and Lisbeth Salander, the "Girl" of the title and the main attraction in the novel, is still in bed, locked into her hospital room after the incidents of the previous book, The Girl Who Played with Fire (I'm giving the English titles, which bear no relation to the original Swedish titles). When Salander finally moves into the action mode reminiscent of her activities in the first two novels of the trilogy, the novel is almost over (and the plot has actually wound up already), and she actually (partially--and here's another spoiler alert) pulls her punches in a manner characteristic of the peculiarly ethical Swedish brand of crime fiction. Speaking of the plot itself, Larsson enthralls the reader with a spy/thriller plot that turns on not nuclear war or encroaching foreign powers but instead an internal constitutional crisis provoked by rampant counterintelligence insularity and the strive toward self-preservation in the bureaucracy of secrecy. Quite unusual in concept, as well as in resolution: the agency is (spoiler alert) already well on its way to defeat before the climax, which is resolved mostly through the revelation of the legal strategy set up by the team of lawyers, journalists, etc., in defense of Salander (who is on trial for assault among other things). All of which is a unique approach for a thriller. Larsson is perhaps a one-off: in spite of his obvious debt to Swedish crime fiction from Astrid Lindgren to Sjöwall/Wahlöö, Jan Guillou, and beyond, staked out a territory that is unlikely to be inhabited by anyone else. As his journalist-hero-alter ego Mikael Blomkvist says, it's all about violence against women, not spies and intrigue. Larsson is doing advocacy journalism by other means and extending his always explicit, never simply implied message of justice and ethics (private and public) beyond his magazine's reach into the much larger (and now world-wide) audience for fiction. I'd still argue that the 10-volume Sjöwall/Wahlöö opus remains the pinnacle of Swedish crime, but Larsson puts his very individual stamp on the genre and also brings the form into the 21st century's criminal, information, and political environment. I almost started this post by saying that there's really not much to say about Larsson's epic (plenty of words, lucidly translated by "Reg Keeland", in the novel itself) but I find myself nevertheless making a fairly long post about Hornets' Nest...


Leighton Gage said...

Hi Glenn,
Long time no see. But I hope to correct that next March, when I'm on the road for "Dying Gasp", my newest.
This post isn't a comment on Stieg's book. It's a plea to enlist your support in making people aware of an internet radio show. This Saturday, the 24th, at 12:30 PM Eastern time, Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, Stan Trollip (half of the writing duo of Michael Stanley), Cara Black and Stuart Neville will be joining me (Leighton Gage) to talk about mysteries set outside the United States. Okay, they're not all noir, but it should be interesting for the non-purists among your readers nevertheless. Listeners can call in with questions. It's a New York area code, so most folks would be well advised to use Skype or some such thing. If they can't catch it live, the program will remain archived for a month. For more details, just go to and type my name into the site's search function. And, if listeners sign up (it doesn't cost anything) the site will automatically convert the air time into their own time zones, wherever they might be. (Yes, Europe, Asia and Australia too.)
Should be fun. I hope you'll join us.

Philippa said...

I have read all three books and I very strongly feel that they needed some serious editing. Too much detail about showers and coffee, and superfluous sideplots such as Poison Pen in the third volume. In fact the whole business of Erika changing jobs and the boss being another bad boy but unrelated to the main plot was a tedious unnecessary inclusion.