… A Miss Evans and a Mr Potter both appear on your reservation sheet and the first instinct you have is to seat them next to each other, wait for them to fall in love, get married and call their first born Harry 🙂
“It was, on the contrary and to put it mildly, decidedly unsimple.”
Today I start with a quote from the book of which I speak. I sat for a long time, having finished the novel, considering how one could describe the experience and I find Larsson sums it up rather eloquently.
It’s strange. Normally when I read a book I come out with a defined response, good, or bad, and while I might appreciate the shades of grey each different novel entails, I have that initial gut reaction that – fundamentally – says what I thought about it. This book baffled my gut. I honestly cannot say if I enjoyed it, hated it or found myself somewhere in between.
Let me try to explain.
Larsson has a ‘gift’ shall we say, for complicated. Its what made Dragon Tattoo so unusual and stand-out above a mostly saturated market and its what made Played with Fire so insanely clever. He also has a love for intricacy of details. And I think that’s why this book, for me, failed.
There was just too much going on. In book one, there was one main plot plus the running back-story of Salander, Wennerström and Millennium The last three of which were carried over into book two as well as adding three new murders, complications with the sex trade, a plethra of new characters and a top layer of conspiracy and corruption. Book three not only carries all this across but adds yet another bucket load of murders, I would estimate double again the number of characters, digs even deeper into Salander, gives Berger a secondary (and oddly spurious) plot AND attempts to add a level of, shall we say, romantic tensions.
I’m sorry, but no book can handle all that. And even if author and book can, the reader can’t.
This book felt almost rushed. There was so much Larsson tried to fit in, and in all honesty, there just wasn’t the time nor space. In places, it grinds to an almost complete halt where he slows it down with in depth histories that just aren’t necessary. Gullberg is a good example of this. The main premise explored in this section is repeated almost endlessly through the book. Having it so painstakingly slowly laid out just slowed the book to the point of boredom. In other places, the book rockets through so fast it leaves your head spinning.
There are some absolutely excellent sections. For example, I adore the court sequence at the end, which is both clever and well paced, likewise the relationship between Johansson and Salander, but compared to his previous two books, these are few and far between. I’m sure someone will explain to me, but for the life of me I could not understand the relevance of Berger’s side-plot. Rather, I understood perfectly the story and its conclusion, I simply do not understand why it was felt necessary. As far as I could see it was just a rather long winded way of spoilers: getting her back to Millennium. It’s not even that it was used as a red-herring for the main plot. It was just, in a word, spurious.
Also, and this is my biggest nag with this book, it leaves a lot of loose ends. Now, whether this is because Larsson intended on writing more in the series I guess we’ll never know but it is infuriating. Spoilers alert: From simple things like why Salander does indeed have a dragon tattoo, to the bloody solution to the Fermat riddle which in the end I decided to google because it drove me so nuts the book never resolved it. But also plot details like considering the amount of page space wasted on the attempted love triangle between Blomkvist, Figuerola, Berger and Salander, he makes no attempt to bring it to any conclusion – even just to hint that Blomkvist has reverted back to his womanising ways – and then there is the illusive twin sister who, considering how powerful her testimony could have been was never approached by either side. The ending left me disappointed and wondering if I was missing the last ten pages.
In some ways, this book is just as brilliant as its counterparts. Certainly, Larsson has reached his stride with his narrative style and the core characters have become so familiar that they feel like family. But is also has gaping holes that are unlike Larsson who normally ties up all his various plot lines neatly. I honestly cannot say if I loved or hated this book but I will conclude this. Firstly, I enjoyed reading it, despite its pitfalls, it is still written well and the primary plot is engaging and interesting (if a tad far-fetched and over complicated). Secondly, it disappointed me. I had high expectations that it just didn’t reach. Thirdly, I would still recommend it to someone who has read the other two as it does at least give some form of conclusion, however, as a stand alone, I would be reluctant to promote it.
Rating: 5-10: I’m sorry but on the whole this book was a disappointment. It just didn’t give me the answers it had promised.
Favourite (3) Quotes: “What the hell? Is there some sort of spy convention on Bellmansgatan today?”
“This was only the first day of the rest of her life.”
“It was, on the contrary and to put it mildly, decidedly unsimple.”
Favourite Character: Lisbeth Salander (and often saving grace)
Least Favourite Character: Erika Berger – her pointless plot really got on my nerves.
So, it appears to be turning into a Larsson month. I will be honest, I never expected to be gripped as much by these books as I am. As you will guess by how quickly I’m reviewing this novel after its prequel, I enjoyed this one quite a lot.
The problem I tend to find with a lot of authors (again often crime authors) is that they find a formula that works and never deviate from it. Jodi Picoult is a prime example. I love her work but she is literally once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. I’ll be reviewing her book ‘my sister’s keeper’ in the coming weeks. Often, its not always the novelists fault. After all if your lead character is a homicide detective you are pretty boxed when it comes to what kind of crime you are writing about.
The first thing I noticed about Larsson’s sequel is how different it was from the first. Don’t get me wrong, it still has his clever prose, his brilliant characters and his fantastic ability to twist the ordinary into something so dark you aren’t altogether sure you want to know what happens next, but the premise of the novel is completely different. Arguably both books, at their core, are based around a murder plot but that is where the similarities end. Whereas the first was very much a who-done-it, this one is much more about conspiracy and, at least my impression, a damning examination of the press and police in Sweden.
I won’t say much more about the plot other than its brilliantly clever and the final twist is so left-field it leaves you gasping. Indeed, the less you know about the plot going in, I think the more enjoyable the ride is.
I accused the previous book of being Salander’s story through the vessel of Blomkvist. This book is Salander’s story. Blomkvist is just a convenient method of exploring it. A lot of the questions left hanging in the first book are answered here. What’s cleverer still, is that for a long section, there is minimal narration from Salander herself. And I absolutely adore the way Larsson has crafted the relationship between Salander and Blomkvist. Its so unique and real that it pulls you even further into the story.
Once again, he has adopted the same style of switching between characters in narrative. It is here that I put my first negative against this series. Last review, I joked of a pen and paper to keep track of everyone. This time I ended up taking my own advice. There are just so many characters, often with very similar names. And for a long time, at least into the second third of the novel, I found the police sections tedious and frustrating. Not that they are badly written but just that I felt no sympathy for their characters and so had little interesting in their personal plots, only what they revealed of the main story. I also found it hard to swallow, reading from a British Criminologist perspective, that a police department could be that incompetent.
Of course, this is Larsson so he draws all the lines together neatly and in the end, you understand why so many people are involved but for me, I’d have cut the police group down. Officer Bubble is an interesting character. I do admit to adoring Modig. But all together it did feel like too many characters.
On a random note, I adore the title. It is only as you get to the end that you understand just how clever it is. And in some ways that describes the whole book. It is only in its conclusion that you can truly understand its brilliance.
In conclusion, this book is very different to its sister, but just as brilliant. Personally, despite its negatives, I actually preferred it and think anyone who loves Salander as a character will feel the same way. It is clever, thoughtful and, true to Larsson’s form, shocking and controversial. I’d be interested to know how it went down in Sweden. I should think if a similar plot were released in England, several heads would roll. And as always, this is a book that leaves you reaching for the next one in sequence.
Rating: 8-10 – this time marked down for sheer number of characters that sometimes slow the story and sometimes muddy the plot.
Favourite (2) Quotes: “There are no innocents. There are, however, different degrees of responsibility.”
“She only had one style, which we called Terminator Mode.”
Favourite Character(s): Lisbeth Salander and Paolo Roberto.
So…. one of the best things about being a writer of any description, from journalism through to fantasy fiction, is I am always learning. I’m always picking up new skills, new techniques and improving within myself. This series of posts is dedicated to the some of those tips. Taken from some of the most popular TV/movie or book series, I am going to delve into what made these particular shows so popular and what we as writers can learn from it.
This week, I’m looking at House MD.
I would still stand that House is one of the best TV shows ever written, produced and acted. It’s crazy because if you’d told me that I would become addicted to a show that is 50% medical babble I’ll never understand while watching a team of doctors solve impossible, and often unpleasant, cases – I’m not sure I’d have been all that excited. And yet it worked. A hospital drama that didn’t turn into a pathetic (no offence Grey’s Anatomy lovers) soppy soap in which so many of the staff have slept with each other they are risking incest.
There are a lot of things that made House great. Below are just a few of the elements that I think contributed to its massive success and moreover, are things us as writers can work into our own projects.
1. Be uncompromising
To me this is the number one reason why House succeeded where many others failed. Back in series one, they could have bowed down to pressure, they could have (with fair ease) turned it into the House/Cuddy and Cameron/Chase show with just a bit of medicine thrown in on the side. They never did. They stuck to their vision. I would love to have been a fly on the wall at the production meeting when the character of House was first pitched. I would wager faces paled and coffee spilt. In the perfect world of TV, House is a risk. A drug addicted, brutally sarcastic, pessimistic to the point of extreme doctor who has no sense of empathy for his patients (at least most of the time)… And we’ll never know how much he evolved before we got to the version that graced our screens. But at the end of the day, what made House great was that it was so controversial. It was different and refreshing. It was uncompromising.
Being uncompromising as a starting-out writer can be a little like shooting ones self in the foot. While occasionally there are people whose first draft of their first novels are exceptional and will go on to be best-sellers, most of our first drafts are going to suck. I know mine did. I just couldn’t see it at the time. And so it took me a while to accept that the critique I was getting was valid and I needed to make changes. Change doesn’t have to be compromise. You can write a completely different book without compromising the vision. Trust me, I’ve done it. But just a little factoid for you, if JK Rowling hadn’t fought her corner, the Harry Potter world would be entirely metric and it is likely Hogwarts would not have been a boarding school as her publishers were concerned no one would be interested in ‘another boarding school story’. Hurrah for Ms Rowling!
2. Don’t fear change
House was always unpredictable. I won’t put in specifics here to protect those of you who haven’t watched/ are halfway through the series from spoilers but it was the kind of show that you knew every week would manage to surprise you. Now, in theory unpredictability is easy. I found House of Night exceedingly unpredictable. However, I got the impression (and again, this is merely my opinion, no offence intended – and I might be wrong) it was being written as they went along and so when they got stuck, they just pushed it in a new crazier direction. It did calm down towards the end of the series when they had their new arc in place but for a while it became like whiplash as plot twists came without warning or sign. House specialised in plausibly unpredictability. Watching it back, you can see how the writers slowly, subtly ready the ground for the next big twist. It never actually comes out of the blue. It’s never out of character or storyline – it’s just well submerged within the rich tapestry of on-going plot arcs that you didn’t see it until it happened.
There are a lot of shows out there that may as well not bother with season finales with big explosions and ‘oh my god is he going to die’ cliff-hangers because, trust me guys, all your audiences is thinking is ‘well of course you aren’t going to kill him off’ and that kinda kills the suspense somewhat. (Star Trek Voyager was a classic for it). If you ask me, NCIS made this mistake with the end of season 9. *Spoilers* Someone should have died. It made the whole threat less viable. Rather unfamiliar territory for the show, but they seemed to fear changing their cast. (A problem they have since seemed to rectify a little). House you never knew. I think every one of those characters came near death at least once at some point and some made it, some didn’t. And that’s what made it good. When someone contracted black plague, you weren’t thinking ‘don’t worry pal they’ll invent a miracle cure. they have to, you are in the main credits’, you caught your breath and started praying they weren’t about to kill off your favourite character. Characters left, characters returned, characters died, characters got shuffled around – they never stopped changing those elements of the show and that kept the audience on its toes and begging for more.
The message for writers here is simple. Killing off characters sucks. Least I think so. I get attached to mine. Hell, after writing 600 odd pages about anyone I think we are entitled to feel mildly fond of them. Killing them off erroneously just for effect with no plot link is bad news. But I’ve found it’s important to remember that just like in real life, nothing is perfect and most people don’t have happy endings. People live and people die.
3. Know Your Characters
House never changes. He develops. We see him soften sometimes, even cheer up for a while, but at the end of the day, he’s still the same miserable git we meet in episode one. I’ve always been a character campaigner. You can’t tell a story without the people. And for me, I need to know those characters. I know, without hesitation, that thrown any situation, I could take any of my current class of characters and tell you how they’d react. I suspect the writers of House could too. Never, in eight series, did I sit up and go ‘huh?’ as a character did something clearly only necessary for the plot but so far out of their personality it makes you blink in triplicate. Castle towards the end of season 5 sees Rick do this (making for me the resulting finale predictable and a little dull – which is a shame because I loved the series as a whole). But shows do it all the time. Ignore personality for plot. It’s one of my pet peevs. Even the patients stayed true to the personalities they were given. And for me, that kept the show real.
4. Nobody’s perfect
Another character point. When I first started out writing, I was looking for inspiration for characters and so I took a sheet of paper and drew threw columns. In the first I wrote the names of people I knew, in the second, I wrote all the good things in their lives (e.g. stable jobs, good car, nice kids, intelligent etc…) and in the third, all the bad things, (e.g. parent died of cancer, unbearably selfish, job they hate…). My conclusion was simple. No one is perfect. House had no perfect characters. Everyone did stupid things. Everyone made mistakes. And everyone then lived with them. Two things House did that all writers should learn from. Firstly, develop characters into flawed people. I never liked Foreman. I thought he was jumped up and rude. But that to me just made the show richer. We don’t like everyone we meet. Again, it kept the show real. Even Wilson, the supposed white knight, was hopelessly flawed. Secondly, they actually watched their own show. Again, (sorry Castle) but season 5 was a perfect example. Something happened in the double episode, something pretty dramatic for character development and then it was basically ignored for the rest of the series. I think it’s referred to once. That kind of thing really annoys me. House would refer to things in season eight that happened four, five, six, seasons ago. For me, it kept the character development rounded and consistent.
Just a little footnote on characters: Gregory House was based on Sherlock Holmes. The flawed genius. No one would accuse them of stealing Conan-Doyle’s story or character but once told the likenesses are obvious. Lesson learnt: everyone learns from the masters no matter who they are.
5. Know when to quit
The most important lesson of all. We all know the old adage ‘quit while you are ahead’. Sadly most TV shows don’t. Take Chuck as an example. Sequels are good. People want more. But don’t try and flog a dead donkey. The best, most loved shows/books/series are those that had a finite end. Harry Potter, House, Merlin. They ended while the going was good. If you can feel the story slipping away. Don’t try to hold on, let it finish. Move on. There are a million more stories out there to be told.
A brief introduction.
Welcome to my first print to screen post. I’ve been wanting to do one of these for ages. It’s a running pet peev of bookworms when screenwriters/actors and/or directors take a book we’ve loved and turn it into a movie disaster, or likewise, it’s a lovely surprise when they do the inverse. So this series of posts is dedicated at looking at that transition and how well the material survives.
This blog is primarily about books. I feel this important to point out before we begin. Yes, this is a dual movie review but it is done very much in the light of them being interpretations of a novel. Where I am negative, I am negative not of it as a film, but as an adaptation of written work. In my opinion, you can watch movies based on books in two ways – either as movies or as renditions. I watch them as both but here talk about them mostly as the latter.
Swedish version. Director: Oplev
The theme of Oplev’s rendition of this book seems to be gritty realism. His cast are, on the whole, far rougher around the edges, his style of filming more cut up and his basic plot format (thanks to screenwriters Arcel and Heisterberg) is very no-nonsense.
Mikael Blomkvist is not a pleasure for the eyes. While this is purely taste, I could rather have done without seeing Mr Nyqvist with his shirt off. In my head, I certainly saw Blomkvist as more attractive simply because he is cast as a womaniser but I can appreciate Oplev’s emphasis of the other side of Blomkvist, and while it may not have been to my taste, can appreciate it in its cinema-graphic effect. For me, Nyqvists interpretation is very hit and miss. In some places, particularly towards the end, he encapsulates Blomkvist brilliantly but in others I find him melodramatic (particularly in action sequences) and far more ‘trigger happy’ shall we say than in the novel. In the novel, despite all his various character flaws, Blomkvist always bases his actions on information, in the movie he is rather prone to making careless assumptions.
Lisbeth Salander and I have a love hate relationship in this movie. Rapace is perfect for this character. Her rendition is actually uncanny in places and for this, I have the upmost respect for her. As an actress, and from an acting point of view, I can point to very few flaws. However, I found the scripting of her bizarre. Lisbeth in the book is a character who hoards information and yet, very often, it is Blomkvist and not her that makes the breakthroughs, contrary to the book. I did not like the handling of her mother. Agneta is the one person who Lisbeth truly loves. To have written that she has not visited her in years takes away the soft, vulnerability that Larsson uses this relationship to highlight in Lisbeth. And considerably diminishes her justification for trying to kill her father. And herein is my biggest problem with this adaptation. In the movie, Salander is about revenge. It is how her backstory is constructed and highlighted in her treatment of Martin. Yes, in the book Salander does seek vengeance particularly from Bjurman, but as Blomkvist points out several times, she has her own moral code. In the book, Salander never murders. To quote “analysis of consequences”. I do not like how the ending with Martin was handled. It takes away from the core of the character. While she might, having faced that situation in the book, have done exactly the same thing and walked away, in the book Larsson had the room to explain her and her reasoning. In the film, she just came across as cold-blooded and blood-lusting.
My final contention with her is her image. In most of the promotion she is described as ‘punk’. Salander is not punk, she is slob – an observation Blomkvist picks up on at the beginning of the court case in book three. The first shots of Salander in the office I thought turned her into something she isn’t. By the end, her look calms and moves much more in line with the book, which begs the question why Oplev felt the need to dress her as a gothic punk in that opening sequence.
The handling of Blomkvist and Salander’s personal relationship was masterful both by script, director but particularly actors. I bought into their relationship and Rapace in particular really gave that sense of reluctance and almost confusion that Salander feels in the book over him. Indeed, and here I shock myself, I actually preferred the movie’s handling of it to the book.
The Vanger family are well played, particularly Henrik. All stayed true to their characters. While I did not like the ‘lets all meet in the boardroom’ scene – it felt like a parody of a Agatha Christie novel, I expected Poirot to turn up and explain who the murderer was – it was a clever way to establish characters quickly.
I thought the prioritising of plot was carefully done and well handled. This film must have been hell on the cutting floor, and I don’t envy the directors and producers of those decisions but I think on the whole, they made the right ones. There is a lot missing but I think the right content eventually made it to the story though I could have done without the weird zooming in on pictures thing the director had going on.
The handling of the crime plot was a bit… weirder. I did not like that they killed Anita off, presumably because she was easier to handle dead. One less character. And the order of their discovery of the girls murders seemed indiscriminatingly random. I don’t understand why they didn’t follow the book in this sense. And I loathed the addition of the break-in at Haralds.
For me, I actually liked that the prison sequence was moved to the end. Indeed, I thought the whole ending was handled well but for one detail. Whether it was on purpose or by accident, I don’t know but if it was the latter, it was very careless. Having just come from a scene where Salander openly admits to murdering a man (albeit by omission) – we then have a scene of Berger (whose name I only know because I read the book incidentally) and Blomkvist hearing that Wennerstom has committed suicide and Blomkvist pulls an unconvinced face. It feels like the implication is that Salander had something to do with it, particularly including the knowledge of the theft. If it was by accident, it was sloppy. If it was on purpose, I dislike this intensely.
Locations were stunning. Visually it was breathtaking as a movie. I adored the score. Some of the background music was absolutely beautiful and really fit the movie. I thank eternally Oplev for choosing not to use gothic/punk music. As a pure movie, it’s not brilliant. It’s well filmed, well acted and well put together. It draws you in and keeps you there. But there’s something missing. It has lost some of the books charm. As a rendition, it is only so-so, in that, I mean, if I had to choose between the pure story-telling, I would still choose the book. It’s funny. When writing of the book, I described it as a character study. I describe this film as crime/action/adventure. And sadly, when it comes to cinema, these two just don’t overlap. And so while both book and movie share the same plot, they tell completely different stories.
English Version: Director: David Fincher
It’s funny. I intended to make notes as I watched this movie because I didn’t think I’d be wanting to rewatch the two and a half hours. This is how far I got…
“It starts well”
That kind of sums up my view of this movie. It’s brilliant. I will grant from the off that being able to understand the dialogue without the aid of hack and often unrealistic subtitles does help its cause but still. Right from the beginning it feels cleaner and more professional than its international counter-part.
First thing I will say. I deplore the choice of music for the credits. As afore mentioned I dislike the association with punk that I don’t feel suits this book and this is the direction Fincher went in. So, one nil to Sweden. Also, I will be honest, I actually had to double check the title in the credits to make sure I’d turned on the right movie. I take it there is now an unwritten law in English cinema that every movie Daniel Craig appears in tries to be James Bond. The credits are visually stunning but I thought it would have been nice to draw away from Mr Craig’s other work a little.
Talking of Mr Craig, his interpretation of Blomkvist is brilliant. Both compelling and believable, and well, any movie which Daniel Craig’s chest is on display is going to get a thumbs up from me. Where as Nyqvist was hesitant with the character, Craig created a far stronger, firmer character that I really liked right from the off, and fitted better with the Blomkvist in my head.
It appears both Fincher and Oplev read the same handbook on Salander’s appearance. I actually snorted at her ridiculous Mohawk in her first scene. Again, she calms throughout but I think Rapace just got the look better. I am not going to try and split the two renditions, acting wise. Both are excellent, considering the difficult nature of such a character, I was absolutely stunned by both actresses and call it a draw. The biggest difference was the quality of the scripting, and this is true throughout, but particularly with Salander. Whereas Rapace had to deal with lines and situations that didn’t suit the character, the Salander in the Fincher movie is written beautifully. Many of the lines are taken verbatim from the book. Of note, I adore the kitchen scene which was lacking in the Swedish version. Mara is just given more to work with.
This leads to the biggest reason why Fincher’s movie works better. It stuck to the book. Everyone’s stories were handled better. Wennerstom. Berger (who actually even got a name in this version – Robin Wright could have stepped right out of the pages). Amansky (who I adored. Not how I imagined him but I thought it was a fun twist). Palgrem. The various Vangers. And the Cat. I will forever thank Fincher for taking screen time for the cat. I found it an important part of the book. It sets the tone in some ways.
It is also a lot truer to the crime plot. And this for me, works sooooo much better. Plummer’s sequence at the beginning, much better lays out the back story and creates a much stronger backbone for the overall movie. On that note, Plummer is genius. I adore the dry, dark humour he brings to the movie. It suits the overtones Larsson chose to run through his novel and so gets a thumbs up from me. I adored the delivery of the line ending with “my family”, not to mention Craig’s face after it.
The handling of the ending was much cleaner in this version for me and left me a lot happier than the Swedish version. Salander is not implied as a murderer. For even though you could argue she did approach with the gun she didn’t pull the trigger and it is left to you as a reader/watcher to decide if she would have done. I found this an important detail, twisted by the Swedish version, done right by Fincher. I loved that we actually got to see the sequences in Zurich (just saying that Mara makes a stunning blonde) and the ending was heartbreaking. I thought the decision to have that conversation with both Palgrem and the coat vendor, really brought out the betrayal that Salander felt. In this I say, movie one, book nil. I liked the addition.
Of course, there were always going to be issues with a very English lead in a movie about Sweden. Accents range from the ridiculous to the awful. Craig, Mara, Skarsgård and Visnijc were the only ones that managed to stay consistent throughout, everyone else was a bit up and down. And visually I MUCH MUCH preferred Oplev’s vision. For me Fincher took Hedeby too gradious. I liked the rustic, more rural look of the Swedish version. And of the two scores, Sweden once again trounced the English version.
I loved this movie. Both as a movie and as a rendition of a book. And that’s rare. It’s normally one or the other. I would highly, highly recommend it and cannot wait to see what they are going to do with the sequel.
Character Interpretation: M. Blomkvist: Daniel Craig (though I’m biased)
Character Interpretation: L.. Salander: It’s a draw. Both impressed me greatly.
Relationship Salander & Blomkvist: Craig & Mara
Crime Plot: Fincher
Rating (as movie): 7/10 – aside from some dodgy acting from Nyqvist and some weird direction choices its a goodmovie.
Rating (as a rendition): 5/10 – it made a valiant effort but its betrayal of the fundamentals of Salander’s moral code really drag it down for me.
Rating (as movie): 10/10 – just a brilliant movie.
Rating (as a rendition): 10/10 – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that has stayed so true to its literary material and still made it out the other end a brilliant movie.
Today, is a short post. I fell across Taylor Marie McCormick by accident. She is a 19 year old photographer. She’s amazing.
I’m not going to say too much but rather let her work do the talking. What McCormick loves to do is take an already beautiful shot/photograph and give it a surreal edge. I’ve spent hours just trawling through her archives. It’s rare I fall across a Flickr account where every photo provides me with a new story. Please check out her Flickr account — whether as a writer, an artist or just a casual observer, let her artwork take you away to a new kind of Wonderland (her project name: Project 52).
Her main page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lalasiy/
Okay, I know, I’m about two years late. But having just finished this book I feel compelled to review it.
I rarely put off reading best-sellers I have the general opinion that if a book has made it to best-seller status then who am I to disagree with the opinion of millions. But I did with Stieg Larsson’s work. For three reasons. Firstly, I am not a huge fan of crime fiction as a general rule. I tend to find the prose is often laboured and the characters are regularly two dimensional, sacrificed for complex plots that make solving the bloody thing either impossible or so obvious I shut it in chapter two. That’s not to say that crime fiction is written badly, indeed, I would stand that some of the best authors are in that genre, but rather that it is just not to my taste.
Secondly, I despise books that sell on gimmickry. I have not, and refuse point blank, to read, for example, Fifty Shades of Grey. I have no doubt that it is written exceptionally well. Nor do I have a problem with the erotic genre but rather, I take offence to a book that is sold on its sexual content. Rather like a movie that is judged because of its levels of nudity rather than the quality of plot and acting, I truly believe a book should be judged on plot and story-craft not on how deeply it describes the bedroom sequences. In promotion, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (hereafter TGwtDT) came across as a book that was being sold for its daring to be graphic, gorey and horrific.
Thirdly, I was a student and broke. I had to choose my reading material carefully.
Man have I ever been wrong. I read it from cover to cover in less than two days. The only book I’ve ever read faster is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and that was mostly to avoid spoilers.
TGwtDT starts slowly. And Larsson does like to delve deep into Swedish business, politics and finance to a level that does make a reader feel like they are drowning. His introduction of Wennerström is in depth and complex. And I’ll admit I almost dropped the book right then, but take my advice. Keep going. As the plot kicks in, you are catapulted into a story that never stops, and while you might guess some of the solution, I would highly respect anyone who could guess the complete conclusion. And what’s better, is that having suspicions still doesn’t ruin the ending.
Characters are definitely Larsson’s strong suit. Wow. Now I’m pretty picky when it comes to character representation but his characters just blew me away. Blomkvist can get annoying in places but its easily forgiveable. He is delightfully three dimensional, as opposed to the usual cop cliche you tend to get in crime novels. He is flawed and most importantly, Larsson stays true to him from page one to ‘the end’. And Lisbeth Salander. I won’t say anything too much other than she is an intriguing enigma that is almost as fascinating as the rich plot going on around her. While many might not like her as a person, you have to adore her as a character. Larsson’s secondary cast are also strong. Often you find books where the author has done all the work on the lead characters and just dumped other names around them. Here, this isn’t true. You get completely dragged into the Vanger family and each character is as real and formed as the next.
One thing I would say is keep a pad and paper close. Not to track the plot. Not to keep a record of all the clues but to keep track of names and places. This is a book written by a Swede set in Sweden. The names are, in places, hysterical in pronunciation and I promise you will spend half your time flicking back and forth trying to remember places. It is part of what creates the rich atmosphere of the book, and Larsson really does bring Sweden to life in front of your eyes, but it can be a bit brain-busting at times.
Larsson has an unusual style of prose. Until you get into its flow it can feel very disjointed. Paragraphs of description almost seem to be thrown in at random. I actually really got on with it very well and I think, again, it is part of what makes his books so special. He is also discriminating with his description. By the end, a reader can describe, in fair detail, the entire of Salander’s wardrobe. I’m not sure I could even tell you what colour hair Blomkvist has. It made it, for me anyway, very much Salander’s story with Blomkvist just a catalyst and a vessel. Also, while he writes in third person, he jumps between Salander and Blomkvist, as well as a few other characters from time to time, during the story. I really enjoyed this as a style. It gave the whole book a feeling of coming together as all the different threads slowly pulled together. Particularly at the end, this style worked exceptionally well in building anticipation and climax.
Different people react differently to the inherent ‘gore’ in this book. My mother, who can watch psycho thrillers at midnight and sleep happily, had nightmares after reading this book and claims that the detail was unnecessary. Me, who can’t watch the torture scene in Casino Royale, never mind a horror movie, had no problems with it. Far from being a gimmick I actually felt that it added to the whole atmosphere of the book and helped build the tensions towards the final twist and conclusion.
I’ve added a link to the bottom of this review to an article I read recently in the economist about crime fiction in Scandinavia. Larsson was the beginning of what has become a massive flood in the market but I think he will be remembered for a long time. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is crime fiction, of that there can be no denying, but it is also an examination of human interaction and it is for this, over its crime plot, that I praise it. Larsson had the daring to present two unusual and compelling characters and it is only through them that the book truly works. It is a book that leaves you already reaching for the sequel even as you close its cover.
Rating: 9-10 (I only don’t give it ten because in places it does become very heavy with the financial and political stuff and this does slow the story)
Favourite (2) quotes: “She became known as “the girl with two brain cells”—one for breathing and one for standing up.”
“People always have secrets. It’s just a matter of finding out what they are.”
Favourite Character: Lisbeth Salander
I’ll be honest, I was pretty darn chuffed with myself when I self-published my book last year. I’d been working on it since I was 8 or 9 and anyone whose got to the end of a novel will understand the feeling of accomplishment that comes along side it. On top of that, it was the first time I ever exposed my writing to strangers so that was a big deal for me.
Only one problem really.
It’s sort of mediocre.
It’s strange to read back something after a year and realise it really isn’t half as good as you thought it was. I can see all the mistakes they tell new authors to do their best to avoid. The prose is lumpy in (most) places and it is full of small errors. I was in such a hurry to be published that I forgot three golden rule – patience, practise, proof. I considered taking it down altogether but to me it represents something – a solid achievement that I don’t want to belittle by removing it. But I’m also aware, it’s doing me no favours as a writer.
And so today, I pose a question. When do you abandon a literary project?
Funnily enough, despite having written since the age of eight, it’s not a question I’ve ever really had to consider before. I spent most of my early years writing screenplays that I knew beyond a doubt were never going to go beyond my hard-drive and were produced solely for personal enjoyment. I read back some of my plots now and laugh hysterically at how insane they sound. My ten-year old self thought turning James Bond into a musical sounded like a good idea. But my point is, I always knew those projects were never destined for anything noteworthy.
It was only as I got to late teens that I really considered my writing with any degree of seriousness, but even then, as any new screenwriter will tell you, unless you are exceptionally lucky or live in Hollywood, that’s pretty much a pipe dream. It’s a sad fact and I’m sure many will simply accuse me of being bitter and not-good-enough. The truth is, I’ve never really tried to take my screenplays anywhere. So whether they are good or not almost becomes moot. Instead, I chose to turn them into a form of complex plotting for their transformation into novel form.
Which brings me to my first book. Myths & Legends. I wrote the first draft of the screenplay when I was seventeen and it took me two years to convert it into the novel version that is currently available. Like I say, I was rather chuffed with myself when I finished. I thought I had written a good book…
They say time makes the heart grow fonder. Well it also makes the brain grow wiser.
Myths & Legends is not a bad book but it is fairly and squarely in the mediocre category. I’ve never had a bad review on it, but I’ve also never had a good one either. Reading it back, I can see so many errors that I made. Ways I handled the plot that were clumsy. The plot itself is hopeless in places. And the narrative is cringe-worthily childish and unrefined.
But there’s something about that first book you write. The characters. The story. It feels more personal than any other work you will produce and so I recently decided that I was going to give Myths & Legends the facelift it deserved and see if I could take a so-so book and turn it into something that I’d be proud to promote and share.
And this isn’t a revamp. We all revamp (or draft as I like to call it). It’s the only path to novel completion. We move chapters around, change sentences, proof out all the errors, fix continuity and yes, here and there, fiddle with the plot. But this goes so much deeper than that. This is a true rewrite.
It’s been brutal. Of the first three chapters, the sum total of what has stayed from the original is four sentences. Narrative styles have changed. Locations have changed. Dialogue has been revolutionised. But I’ve surprised myself by actually enjoying the process. It’s been nice to resurrect those old friends that I created so long ago. And I feel like this time, I have a half shot at doing them justice.
But now I face a decision I never expected to fall upon. How far can I change the book before it becomes a completely different novel with just a shared title? The Italian Job syndrome. They tried so hard to update and ‘hip’-ise the story, they moved so far from the original that about the only two things they have in common is a title and the use of Mini’s. And so I face the literary equivalent. The rewrite of this book is much stronger, and darker, than its predecessor and this opens up to me a whole new wealth of plots. The question is, do I want to change it that much?
The answer at the moment is – I think so. I know, as far as the future of the book is concerned, rewriting both book and plot is probably the best choice and is the path I am now going down but there is a small part of me sad to see the original go. It’s often quoted that J.K. Rowling rewrote chapter one alone of Harry Potter something like six or seven times before she was happy with it. It’s something I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten more and more into this industry – writing is a skill and just like any skill it gets better with practice. The more you write, the better you become. It’s only natural that in a book of 600 pages written over a year, the end is going to be neater and cleaner than the beginning. And the newer you are to the industry the more quickly, and radically, you will improve. Just a thought – but most (and this is only a general rule because I know there are hundreds of exceptions) the successful authors out there are past thirty. I sometimes wonder if long-established authors like Stephen King look back at their early work and cringe the way I am with mine, or if it’s just a self-published thing.
Keep an eye out because I’ll be posting the rewritten Chapter One in the next couple of days up to ‘The Dayeskis Trilogy’ page. It’d be nice to have some feedback on what you guys think.