"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Bork! Bork! Bork!

I finally finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yesterday. Yes, I know, everyone's read it already, plus the second one, and I'll bet half of you have pre-ordered the last of the series. Seriously, folks, I've been a little busy.

At any rate, I bought it from an independent bookseller, who said she'd read it and enjoyed it. I hadn't read any of the Amazon hype, hadn't heard more than the title of it, just read the jacket blurb, needed something to read, and jumped in with my glasses on.

The first thing I discovered was Stieg Larsson has been dead for a bit, and this trilogy has been translated from the Swedish by certain Reg Kreeland, which makes me wonder if Stieg would have approved. We'll never know about that, although it does give me an idea for a short story, where a dead writer's ghost comes back to haunt a translator he doesn't care for…

Anyway. The second thing I discovered was Stieg/Reg had broken most of the writing rules that have been drummed into me so thoroughly, I imagine a ruler thumping my knuckles when I try to break them. A lot of the book is written in passive expose, and it takes forever to get the back story of all these characters. For example, it takes eight paragraphs to explain how Mikael Blomkvist got the nickname Kalle. Really? Eight paragraphs? The read and critique groups at SCWC would have my head on a stick for that kind of self-indulgence.

Having read a lot of Dickens, Dumas, Hugo, etc, I'm used to stories that take awhile to tell, so I soldiered on. I've always wanted to visit Sweden; I thought I could immerse myself in the names and places and get a feel for the country. What with Mikael Blomkvist and his employer, Henrik, and the rest of the Vanger clan in Hedestad, I was soon steeped in Swedish.

And then this guy showed up.

For those of you who don't recognize him, he's the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show. Here's a clip of him in action:

(YouTube link here.)

By the way, while I was looking for the S.C., I found a blog by a guy who hates living in Sweden and posts ludicrous things that happen there. Check him out here.

Maybe the novel's pace is too slow, or perhaps it is all of the Scandinavian words, but I began to hear the story in the Swedish Chef's voice. ("SAL-andirr spint SEFF-rel DAYCE COOMing de EEN-ter-NET - hernder fernder bork-bork-bork!")

Kind of kills the whole "dark-hearted thriller" mood. On top of that, I suddenly noticed a USA Today review on the back cover: "Imagine the movies of Ingmar Bergman crossed with The Silence of the Lambs."

Hmm, okay. Jodie Foster is in the basement, in the dark, hoping to kill Buffalo Bill before he gets her. Suddenly, Death walks in the door, and we see that her conflict is not with a serial killer, but with Man's Desire for Immortality…

This might be why I'm not allowed in some churches anymore (just joking).

The book actually picked up when it started spending time with Lisbeth Salander, who turns out to be the main character. Unfortunately, she isn't introduced until page 36, which I'm pretty sure breaks yet another rule.

At the end of the day, I kind of enjoyed the book, in that I liked Salander's character, and I liked the way the mysteries were all tied up and resolved by the final page. But I am left to ponder: when is a genre book literary? Basically, Larsson wrote a thriller, but one that examines larger themes according to his agenda. If I had included, in Freezer Burn, my opinion of how the world should be, via expose and back story, would it be literary fiction? Would it get published?

And more importantly - could I get the Swedish Chef to read it for Books On Tape?


Ali said...

This made me laugh. For one thing, I adore the Swedish chef. Okay, I adore The Muppet Show in general. Come on, Vincent Price turning Kermit into a Vampire? It doesn't get more amusing than that. Or...I'm easily amused. Either way.

I have yet to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I have to admit that I love the title. But the blurb on the back didn't thrill me. I loathe slow-starting books, though. And anything anyone ever compares to Dickens. I don't care for him, which means I'd be flogged, certainly, in some literary circles.

Usually, I think that authors are free to break from tradition (ie those Rules of writing we're told not to break) if it makes the book better. If it serves the story, the character, the voice of narrative. If it just drowns things out, or bores the reader, it's not worth it.

In the case of this novel, I wonder how much might've been lost in translation. Or how much was mangled in it. Perhaps a Swedish audience might react different to the narrative style etc.

That said, given what you've said, I'd eventually just start picturing everyone as the Swedish Chef, and hear all the dialogue is his voice. (I'm still mad that the did away with Swedish Chef Cereal so long ago; it was awesome.)

Anyway, this was a very interesting entry, Gayle. I'm really enjoying your humor and the way you think. :-)

Gayle Carline said...

I agree, Ali, writing rules can be broken WHEN it's the best, freshest, or most innovative way to tell a story. Unfortunately, GWDT reads as stodgy - almost like you can see the cobwebs between each word, UNTIL he gets to any action, and then it's quite good. The whole thing is maddening in that way.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I bought the book but loaned it out before I even had a chance to read it. I have mixed feelings about my beloved mystery/suspense/thriller genre going all literary on me. Kind of ruins the fun if I have to think too hard.

By the way, on Tuesday I will post something on the less than perfect review I received this week. Please come and enjoy.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I'm behind in my reading so I haven't read this one yet and now I think I'll move it to the bottom of my stack. The Swedish Chef, on the other hand, I could watch all day!

N A Sharpe said...

Rolling on the floor laughing at the Swedish chef reading for books on tape....

I haven't read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yet either...or (OT) the Lovely Bones which I really want to read (and see the upcoming movie) Time. I wish I could bottle some. Sigh.

Nancy, from Realms of Thought…

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