Due to the volcanic ash cloud’s disruption of my wife’s arrival to the UK, I had some extra time on my hands and decided to start Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, composed of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Having read a few pop-crime novels in my day, I can safely say that these are in a class all by themselves. Unfortunately, Larsson didn’t live to see the success of his novels nor to create more brilliant, deeply engrossing works like these.
In the Millennium trilogy (slight spoiler only if you refuse to read the synopses on the back of each book!), we have two main characters Mikael Blomkvist, an accomplished journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, a socially complicated, legendary genius of a hacker. On a job to uncover the murderer of an industrial tycoon’s niece, Blomkvist hires Salander to do some research for him. As if Larsson has not provided us with enough material to digest in the first novel, he explodes what seems to be a series of crimes limited to one deranged family into a political scandal that involves the most secret echelons of political power. As the trilogy progresses, he takes us deeper into a world of political and law-enforcement corruption in Sweden. Along the way, while Blomkvist takes on new cases, we learn more and more about the tragic upbringing of the troubled Lisbeth Salander.
I hesitate to say anything more about the plot of these novels because doing so to any extent would rob potential readers of the brilliance of Larsson’s writing and the ways in which he literally demands readers to not put down these books. The only things that should stand in the way of anyone reading these books unceasingly are sleep (overrated), threatened divorce (you can always find someone new), the loss of a job (you hate yours any way), and children (really, shouldn’t they be taking care of themselves by now?).
The themes of Larsson’s novels are almost as extensive as their length (somewhere north of 1700 pages altogether). We get embroiled in some serious implications for discussions of good and evil, personal and social morality, nature vs. nurture, journalistic integrity, ethics, government knowledge/responsibility, and the list goes on and on. I have yet to see the film adaptation of the first installment, although I imagine it hardly does the novel justice. Larsson simply has characters too rich and complex, with plots equally or more so, than any film could hope to contain in 3 hours or less. I wonder, however, if it wouldn’t work in a serialized form on HBO (unfortunately, a friend alerted me to the fact that David Fincher has begun working on a 2012 release, a re-make of the Swedish film out now).
Larsson’s writing is at the same time humorous, devastating, and pointed. This isn’t just summer beach reading (although they will more than suffice for that). These are classics of a genre that produces precious few. Clear your schedule and read, read, read!!