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30 December 2011

Bloody Xmas Reading

Stieg Larsson's Millenium II and III

There were few family obligations this christmas, so I was able to do, what the holidays are actually there for: Slack and read and stuff myself with chocolates. In fact, I started the program early. On the 22nd I had bought tome II and III of Stieg Larsson's "Millenium Trilogy" ("The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest"), having read the first one some while back ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"). So for a few days and excluding a season's invitation, I was glued to a soft seat, reading on. Now these books are what George Orwell termed "good bad books"...


Let me explain with my own words, since it's been some years that I read Orwell's definition and I might not get his definition just right. These books are "bad", because they're not real "literature" - I could have been reading some Tolstoy instead, neither are they teaching me anything worthwhile, and even though they attempt to be a social critique and point at several things that go really, really wrong in society, they ultimatively fail in their critique (IMHO; I'll try to explain below).

In Orwell's opinion though, some books are "good", despite being in the "bad" book category. The outer "good" is mostly based on what I'd call readability, being able to get lost in the book. Enjoy the read, even if the book doesn't have a real message or even if it's some soap opera bollocks. To me, the "Millenium Trilogy" books belong in this category, I didn't want to put them down.

They're also bloodthirsty as hell. Again exphrasing my own humble opinion, the "swedish crime fiction" genre is a huge ripp-off of a series of books from Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Sure, Sjöwall/Wahlöö built on generations of other crime fiction, but here we're talking about certain elements that are in all the big swedish crime stories these days. For example, the protagonist who is around 50 years old, often has a cold, etc. He invariably has an interesting sex life (at least at some point), this is Sweden after all. Usually he's a police officer, but in the case of the "Millenium Trilogy" he's a journalist.

Now in one of Sjöwall/Wahlöö's books, the crime is awfully brutal and bloody (The Abominable Man - Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle, 1971). As far as I understood it when I read those books as a kid, this was done to show the exceptionality of the scene, to stick out. The other books have murders (hey, they're crime fiction!), but often in simpler shades. Now it seems all the swedish crime fiction copycats picked up the "bloodiest, brutalest crime" thing as if it's one of the other standard parts of the "recipe". Probably everybody has to turn up the notch even further, so they stick out even more than all the others. So, we end up with a guy who gets nailed with his feet to the floor alive and then sliced up with a knife in these books. (To hardened crime fiction readers, that's probably pretty tame.) I'd complain about lack of realism here, but there isn't any in crime fiction.

Instead of realism, what I like about these books is the development of the characters. There are a lot of sympathetic things in those characters, you've got some real heroes, some traits of unreal superheroes, some more or less average people. I think I could get by with no deaths in that book at all and still enjoy the read. Oh there is some "hacking" in the book too. Especially in the beginning it tends to get explained in a way that makes it believable or almost believable. Towards the end it turns a bit into a superhero hacker thing: Klick, box open. Anyway, yes, admittedly, the hacker angle was of interest to me.

Now about the social critic aspect of these books, apparently that's been hiped to the roof. Sure it's there, with a drop out heroine who has problems to trust just about anybody, with exposing the rich and corrupt, with fighting the secret police. But in the end it's the system that works despite all this and fixes things. Sure, the system fixes it only after our heroes kick its nose into the little smelling heap it left on the carpet, but still without the system turning around our heroes would be dead and forgotten. I'm not buying that part, sorry - and it spoils the social critic thing with me. It's not so much that it lacks realism (because it doesn't work that way), but that it cops out of really criticizing society's and the system's faults. If you want to show me what's wrong, don't fake it out with a happy end and if you want to show me how to fix things, don't tell me the cavalry will ride in and save the day.

Posted by betabug at 18:51 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
ch athens
Life in Athens (Greece) for a foreigner from the other side of the mountains. And with an interest in digital life and the feeling of change in a big city. Multilingual English - German - Greek.
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