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Something Like a Phenomenon

Over at the New Yorker, Joan Acocella writes about why people love Stieg Larsson’s novels?

Having got American readers to buy more than fourteen million copies, collectively, of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy books—“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2008, American edition), “The Girl Who Played with Fire” (2009), and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2010)—the management at Knopf has decided that it would like them to buy some more. So the company has issued a boxed set: the three crime novels, plus a new book, “On Stieg Larsson,” containing background materials on the late Swedish writer. If you have been in a coma, say, for the past two years, and have not read the Millennium trilogy, about a crusading journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, and a computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, battling right-wing forces in Sweden, the set, at ninety-nine dollars, is not a bad bargain. But if you decided to pass on the novels your resolve should not be shaken by this offer. As for “On Stieg Larsson,” don’t worry. It is a small thing—eighty-five pages—and nothing in it solves the central mystery of the Millennium trilogy: why it is so popular.

I’m in the minority here because I haven’t read any of the trilogy. Any of you guys enjoy the books?

Categories:  Arts and Culture  Bookish  Bronx Banter

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1 Matt Blankman   ~  Jan 13, 2011 10:51 am

I read and enjoyed them. The first book takes the longest to get going, but I think its ultimately the most satisfying of the three. They're a bit awkward and goofy at times, but definite page-turners, and Larsson definitely created a truly memorable character in Salander. She makes the books interesting. Otherwise, there are better potboilers out there to read.

2 boslaw   ~  Jan 13, 2011 10:52 am

I loved them. There are times when the books plod along - the author goes off on major tangents about the Swedish political system and devotes far too many pages to that - but if you can get through that, the stories themselves are pretty good. Sex, violence, mystery, action, etc. - these books have it all, rolled into a tiny, weird anti-heroine. I'm sure the movies will be good. I watched a few of the Swedish versions and they were ok, but I felt they could have been done better.

3 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 13, 2011 10:52 am

It's interesting how a writer can write flat, unappealing prose but still be great at character and plot, or vice versa.

4 ms october   ~  Jan 13, 2011 10:58 am

i haven't read them either.

i did find this article in the new yorker really interesting though.

5 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 13, 2011 11:28 am

4) I know, interesting case all around, isn't it?

6 ms october   ~  Jan 13, 2011 11:31 am

yeah very much - the role of his partner; authorship; the editing/translation issues; some of the subject matters and how he was drawn to it...

7 Matt Blankman   ~  Jan 13, 2011 11:50 am

The NY Times Sunday Magazine ran a very similar story about a year ago, if I remember correctly.

8 Jon DeRosa   ~  Jan 13, 2011 11:57 am

I did read these, but each book was worse than the previous one and the starting off point wasn't that high. By the time I finished the third one, my overall opinion of the series was negative. If I had stopped after the first one, I'd have been positive.

9 festus   ~  Jan 13, 2011 1:10 pm

Jon, agree about the diminishing returns. I thought the first was good, but by the middle of the second one the contained fictional universe of the first (which was partly why I liked it -- Swedish Agatha Christie) had expanded into this weird 70's conspiracy movie silliness. The 2nd one for me was like a Die Hard sequel, everything amped up a bit more, a little more off the rails, where you start to laugh at it much more than with it, but still guiltily entertaining. The 3rd one was basically unreadable for me, ended up flipping through large sections that basically rehashed the plot from the other two and dragged on and on. I think movies are the right reference point to explain their popularity, Hollywood doesn't often make exciting, violent, trashy/kinky thrillers like this anymore that tell a story competently and approach the subject with a fresh angle. The awkward Swedish diction and choice of details are curveballs that play into its appeal -- I thought the Nora Epheron satire piece in the New Yorker captured this brilliantly. TV shows have substituted for this kind of narrative, but I think often require too much investment, so it makes sense that a novel can create zeitgeist in a way that seems totally random. Also, marketing.

10 The Hawk   ~  Jan 13, 2011 7:13 pm

The movies were out when I heard about this. I had to make a choice - read or watch? I decided to watch.

The woman who plays Lisbeth Salander is awesome. I'm sure it's different from the book and wouldn't have lived up to my mind's eye version. For that I'm glad I just skipped the books.

You didn't ask about the movies (I've seen the first two, I should specify) yet here I am chiming in

11 nyhmr21   ~  Jan 17, 2011 11:34 am

Have to say I loved the series. The third book being the longest and densest. I have only watched the first and third movie. First movie was not bad, but they really butchered the third one.

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