Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday reading update...The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

I'm still working on everything I was working on the last time I posted about what I was reading. I feel like this is a recurring theme. Mostly I've been reading The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson.

There are a couple of problems with Larsson's writing, which is unfortunate because he tells captivating tales.

First, his books are really, really long. This alone isn't a problem, but there's all sorts of stuff that seems very pointless, and it feels like he does a lot of name-dropping, so to speak, as if that builds credibility. For example, Lisbeth has a sister. The only plot-moving-forward thing this sister has contributed, as far as I can tell, is to get in a fight with Lisbeth when they are 17, which causes Lisbeth to get arrested or institutionalized again, and even that doesn't really matter. As I understand it, this was supposed to be a series of 10 books, but of course Larsson dropped dead, and now we're left hanging on this sister thing with three, maybe four books.

As for the name dropping, this book mentions a bunch of people that I'm sure I'd know something about if I lived in Sweden, which I don't, but that's not actually what I'm talking about, since the book provides brief biographical info on these people at the back. Larsson talks a lot about different computers and their capabilities, as well as a lot about the roads. I'm pretty sure he could have just said Lisbeth found working on a hand-held devise frustrating, compared with her full sized iBook, or whatever, and we all would have understood. And instead of saying, Blomkvist took Hantverkargatan to Slussen to Katarina to Mosebacke to Fiskargatan, he could have just said, Blomkvist took a circuitous route back to his apartment to avoid being followed.

It seems to me that all of these problems would have been solved if they had hired me as their editor, although I would have had to check on the punctuation convention of including an IM conversation as dialogue.

The second problem is that the story is told from a number of different perspectives, but the pacing is a little awkward, and sometimes it can get confusing, since everyone has similar names. For example, at the Millennium, there's a Malim and a Malm. I think one's a first name and one's a last name, but that just gets even more confusing because sometimes the one that's the first name is referred to by their last name. I'm pretty good at tuning all of this out, since these aren't the main characters, but they do pop up enough for this to be annoying.

Along these lines, books that flow smoothly have far fewer characters than the main ones would have known in real life, and conversations are far less confusing. Unlike in real life at Thanksgiving, where there are several conversations going on at once, in books there's only one. Or, probably more accurately, there's only one worth telling in the story. Also, a number of authors make their characters only children, unless having siblings is in some way useful, because otherwise they just clutter up the writing.

I think Larsson's books have far too many characters with similar names and jobs for it to be reasonable to keep track of. This obviously isn't preventing me from reading his work, but it would be even more enjoyable if he cleaned it up a bit.

A couple of other things that would improve the writing, although are secondary to the above:
  • The characters are all really one-dimensional. And unemotional. All of them. That's a little unbelievable.

  • The language is not particularly attractive. I don't mean the swearing, either. Larsson hardly paints a picture with his words as much as fires them at the reader. In his defense, these aren't the sort of books one reads for the beautiful imagery, but nonetheless, his word choices are very stark.

  • The titles of the other two made sense, but neither the title nor the cover art of this one works for me. So far there has been no hornet's nest (I understand there is a figurative hornet's nest, but considering the other two titles literally worked and Larsson doesn't use a lot of figurative speech, this is random). And the cover of this book reminds me of the winter/Christmas, which works for the movie which is set in the winter, but the book is set in the summer.
All in all, I'm having a fine time reading this book, but part of the reason it's taken me so long is that I had to take breaks in the middle where the plot was just not moving as well as it could have been if I were in charge!

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