The man who wrote good/bad fiction

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest

By Stieg Larsson

This book is a worthy finale to an astonishingly addictive trilogy. But I’m not going to waste time outlining Larsson’s achievements. I want to point out where he went wrong.

Larsson’s trilogy may be addictive but it is very poorly written. I noted this out in my reviews of his first two novels. But I let him get away with it because I enjoyed the books so much. After the culmination I feel I should speak out. The books are filled with simple mistakes that an editor should have deleted (eg, “she claimed that you allegedly hit her”). Friends who have read these books wonder whether they were left unedited after the author’s pre-publication death in order not to upset his vision. In the case of glaring errors, that’s not good enough.

Next up: the clichés. We should not let Larsson off for such eye-rolling turds such as Salander “coming up for air” after sex. Nor should we excuse his tough-talking language. Sometimes it is as contrived as that of a poor mafia movie.

But what really gets under my skin about Larsson is his polarised view of the world. According to these books, there are good guys and bad guys. I would have expected a man of Larsson’s intelligence to recognise the complexities in any one human character. He manages it with Salander and, to some extent, Blomqvist – so why not everyone else? Instead, he settles for villains so dastardly the reader expects to walk in on them stroking cats in their laps. And he creates people who are so strictly moralistic that they seem unreal. Even Salander, for all her wonderful traits, is portrayed with too precise a moral code. The reason why Salander gets away with it is because it is entirely hers. The moral code of everyone else in these books is defined against that of the state. And that’s the last thing Larsson would have wanted to do.

Finally, Larsson’s world is too false. It does not feel real enough. He is so obviously in love with the magazine and its staff – created entirely by him but based on his experiences at Expo – that he cannot help but view it through specs so rose-tinted a doctor would think he had cataracts. An editorial assistant suddenly becomes editor-in-chief? There is a love of job titles at Millennium: Blomqvist’s position as publisher is so sacred that his colleagues are fetishist about it, even though his actual job appears to be chief reporter. Millennium employees seem to have endless conversations about their job titles whenever there’s chance for a shakeup. Grow up, Larsson. Get down to business.

This author is talented, insightful and gifted with a sound sense of justice. Maybe things would have been different if he hadn’t died before his trilogy was published. But either way, a lot of editors made lots of mistakes. As to the covers chosen for these UK editions, don’t get me started…

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