Swedish Saga

I bought the first volume in paperback – it must have cost less than $10. It’s very thick, green with the title printed in black. The first time I heard about the famous trilogy was through the comment of a coworker who reads books faster than I can pronounce their titles. She knows everything about every good author and is always tipping me on books.  Her initials are G.H. – you know who you are! Therefore, when she first told me about this suddenly famous Swedish author, I listened with interest and care but it would take me a couple of months until I finally met Mikael Blomkvist, the investigative reporter, and his more than unusual friend Lisbeth Salander.

I struggled for days with the first chapters in the green and black paperback.  Maybe it was the English translation of the Swedish original. Maybe I was not in the right mood for violent crimes and serial murder cases in frozen Nordic lands.  Is this the acclaimed best seller? I can’t see why the big fuss about it, I remember thinking to myself, annoyed. I did not like the style, I did not like the people in it, it bothered me the way the author described minimal things in the characters’ day-to-day lives;  how they turned on the coffee makers in their kitchens, what they ate, the color of the pants and jackets they chose to wear on any given day. But  I kept going. Could sixty-five million people around the world – many times the population of Uruguay, for example – be wrong?  Somewhere  around chapter ten I totally, completely and forever changed my mind about  the girl (a brilliant computer hacker) with a dragon tattoo on her shoulder blade   and a violent childhood.  I went from grumpy reader  to number one fan in a matter of days.  Had to slow myself down to make the pages last more train trips.  In a matter of days I went from annoyed  to avid reader and rented the movie – the 2009  Swedish version (Netflix has it!)  – because the one starring Dan Craig and Rooney Mara had not reached our theaters yet.

Hard to say which version is the best.  Craig’s Blomkvist is more active and physical and  is difficult  to beat Christopher Plummer as the retired and dignified industrialist Henrik Vanger. Most of all, Mara  is a better match to the dragon-tattooed girl,  petite and delicate, whereas the girl in the Swedish movie (actress Noomi Rapace, also excellent) is taller and more muscular. There is a reason why the author describes Salander so small and thin and in that aspect I think the English production fares better. On the other hand, the Swedish movie has the charm of a locally produced motion picture and all characters, naturally,  speak Swedish. In the end, if you happen to fall in love with Stieg Larsson’s work, I’d suggest you see both versions. In both movies the violent scenes are perhaps too graphic and that made me uncomfortable  – the older I  get the  harder it is for me to watch human misery on a screen. We know it’s all make believe in a set full of cameras, powerful lights and screaming directors,  but that does not help me.  Actors and actresses in both versions do a superb job with such painful scenes – maybe it’s precisely because they are so talented that I found it painful to watch those segments.

At the end of Girl with Dragon Tattoo, if you think it was the best crime story you  ever read, you don’t know  what you’re missing until you open The Girl Who Played with Fire.  As if it were possible, the sequel is one hundred times more entertaining. Blomkvist and Salander are back in great style and I found myself delighting in the description of how they are dressed, how  they turned on the coffee machine in the kitchen (which they do often),  the groceries they bought for the weekend. In short, everything that annoyed me in the beginning is now a  source of pleasure – it’s like seeing old friends again and everything they do is of interest to me. As I told my coworker G.H.,  it feels like Blomkvist, Salander and the rest of the gang are real  – our good old friends living in Stockholm! If feels like the magazine Blomkvist partly  owns and works for, MILLENIUM, is a real one, which I have even seen displayed at  the newsstands in Philadelphia ! And here the final proof that there is something really unique about Larsson’s work : I never held another book  that attracted so much attention and invited so much conversation with fellow commuters!  There is always someone on my train who also read and loved it, who struggled with  the initial chapters of the first volume just to fall in love with the story a few pages further,  and ran to the book store to get  the sequels,  addicted exactly how I was about to become.

Not many books are powerful enough to create that reaction on the reader.  All attempts to slow down the speed of my reading so that the second volume too would last more train trips failed and  I got  dangerously close to the end in less than one week. I panicked. Had to drive to the nearest book store one evening after work and buy  the third volume – just how the  people on my train had described!  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is on. Equally thick, silver colored, with the title printed in black and red. And that one again is going way too fast.

The sad thing is, no matter what happens with my friends Salander and Blomkvist at the end of the third book, there will be no fourth volume to read.  At least not by the original writer. Stieg Larsson passed a few days after delivering the  manuscripts. When I read about it, it gave me goose bumps. It feels as if he lived his life with this one magic purpose:  to create the Salander/Blomkvist trilogy. Once that was accomplished, he was free to move on.  Thank you G.H. for introducing me to Larsson’s work.  It’s greatly entertaining summer – or winter – reading. Sixty five million people around the world – plus this blogger – are not wrong. As for Daniel Craig, our current James Bond, I am all for him to resign from Her Majesty’s Secret Service and become Mikael Blomkvist for life…

Liv Lugara

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