Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson - the girl who gripped me

Posted by lea at 10:20 AM

It's been a long time since I've come across a story so gripping that every time I open the page, I end up so absorbed that I miss my bus stop, come in late for work bleary-eyed from reading late into the night, or miss dinner completely because I just can't put the book down. With The Millennium Trilogy, Stieg Larsson has written a literary version of crack cocaine. It's absolutely un-put-downable.

Starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we're introduced to Mikael Blomqvist, a crusading journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, a possibly mildly autistic, brilliant researcher whose deep-seated mistrust of authorities has very good basis. Blomqvist has been disgraced in the media and is now privately hired to look into the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, an heiress to the wealthy Vanger dynasty. During the course of his investigations, he recruits Lisbeth Salander, who proves to be far more resourceful than her strange gothic-punk image would betray.

Parts two (The Girl who Played with Fire) and three (The Girl who Stirred the Hornet's Nest) are not self-contained stories, but an ongoing mystery that places Lisbeth firmly in the centre of an unfolding criminal cover-up of the highest order among Sweden's secret police. While intrigue and vested interests aim to put her away as a menace to society, Blomqvist is convinced of her innocence and begins digging to uncover the truth of her tragic background.

The Millennium Trilogy contains all the elements of a great crime mystery (violence, power, thrills and vengeance, to name a few) but it's in no way formulaic. These books are bestsellers with good reason: they're unique, incredibly interesting, absorbing and utterly utterly compelling. Unlike other best-seller The Da Vinci Code, Larsson's writing doesn't get in the way of telling a good story, and predictability is kept to a minimum. You're kept so busy in the action of the now that you have no time to guess what will happen next. Besides, Lisbeth Salander is anything if predictable.

Larsson gets the most from the whip-cracking storylines by the evenness of his writing, never trying to show off his literary abilities but letting the story tell itself. His journalistic background is evident, as is the depth of his research, in the ability to make such a sensational story seem so realistic. His characters are also fleshed-out so there's nothing one-dimensional about them - we get to know everything from their sexual preferences down to the groceries they buy. Apparently Lisbeth's character was partially inspired by the children's classic Pippi Longstocking. A colleague of Larsson's said in an interview that they were discussing how characters from children's books might behave had they grown up, and Larsson was influenced by the idea of dysfunctional adult Pippi Longstocking in the real world. It's a truly fascinating notion.

Over 22 million copies have been sold worldwide in just over two years, a Swedish version of the film has grossed over $100 million before even being released in the States, and an American adaptation has just been picked up by Sony. It's an absolute tragedy that the author died before the books were published and never saw the phenomenon they would become.

When was the last time you stayed up late to read a great book? If it's been too long, try this series. You won't regret it.


Caesar on March 17, 2010 at 9:38 PM said...

I felt this way about Norrell & Strange, and also His Dark Materials... but in hindsight I don't really love them so much as I initially did. Will definitely pick up these ones at some stage though.

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