Generally, book phenomenons tend to leave me baffled. The Twilight “Saga”, Dan Brown, Fifty Shades, I’m either entirely uninterested, or intrigued enough to read them and completely at a loss to understand why they’re so popular. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series definitely in the latter category. A few years ago, EVERYONE was talking about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. So I bought it, read it, and found it to be tiresome in the extreme. Too much plot, too many characters (all called Something Vanger, pretty much) and not a shred of internal logic or verisimilitude, I was so shocked that people were eating this up. Even with that, I bought the other two books in the series, the first purchases when I bought my first Kindle in September of 2010. I read The Girl Who Played With Fire shortly after that and hated it so much (not to mention unable to understand why people were calling it “gripping” and “compulsively page-turning” when ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENS for the first 200 pages) so that it’s taken me three years, a Cannonball Read and a vow to clear all the unread books from my Kindle to read the final installment.
Picking up almost immediately where The Girl Who Played With Fire left off, we have the inexplicably adored Lisbeth Salander (I mean, really. Did nobody notice Larsson creating the ultimate wank fantasy with this?) in hospital with a bullet in her brain and under arrest for a multitude of crimes. One crime is the attempted murder of her father, who is, hilariously, hospitalised in the next room, with an axe wound to his face. Can I live in Sweden please? Apparently, you can take a bullet to the head and a machete to the face and live on otherwise unscathed.
See, not content with an overly contrived and overstuffed murder mystery, Larsson has put Salander at the centre of a scandal so huge it could apparently bring Sweden to its knees. It’s to do with her father being Russian, a secret operative and an absolute psycho. Salander found this out, lobbed a molotov cocktail at him (she played with fire, geddit?) and so to protect her father’s real identity, they had the teenage Salander declared a nutter and locked her away in a madhouse.
There, see? I’ve just told you in one paragraph what Larsson takes about 282737393 pages to get through. There are so many characters in it, in the Secret Police, in an even more secret division within the Secret Police (really), at the Millennium offices, the hospital, at Berger’s new job as editor in chief at the Svenska Morgon Posten (two wholly excisable, very boring and entirely ludicrous sub-plots there), at Milton Security, it just goes on and on and on and on and most of them have surnames ending in -sson or -sjo, none of which exactly trip off the tongue or make it any easier to keep track of who exactly is who.
Leaving aside the absolutely laughable coincidences and oversights (apparently you can’t hack a hotmail account), there’s also the problem that Larsson was a terrible writer. The whole prose is of the “this happens and then this happens, then they all fall off a cliff, the end” variety and there is not one line of believable conversation in the whole book. Every time people were talking, all I could think was ‘NOBODY SPEAKS LIKE THIS! NOBODY SAYS THINGS LIKE THAT”. It might be that it’s clumsily translated. Or it might just be shit. It’s quite difficult to tell. I think the original title being The Air Castle That Was Blown Up tells you all you need to know there.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Larsson has by this point really ended up with ideas above his station. Every section opens with some waffle about powerful women in history and as if that wasn’t quite jaw dropping enough, he has Mikael Blomkvist say, towards the end “when it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it’s about violence against women, and the men who enable it.” Um, IS IT? There’s very little violence, or indeed action, in this book at all. There’s a LOT of people standing around talking, chatting online and solving mysteries from a hospital bed with a palm pilot, but action? Violence? Not so much.
There’s only one scene that is really interesting, when Salander’s “psychiatrist” is taken apart in court by her lawyer. It’s satisfying to a degree, but at the same time very annoying, as I couldn’t believe a court trial where pretty much anyone can join in during a cross-examination. The best thing I can say about these books is that I’ve finally finished them and I need NEVER go near them again. Worthless dreck.