Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Steig Larsson's Millennium

Spent the better part of the entire previous week devouring Steig Larsson's excellent Millennium trilogy. And at the end of it all there is a sense of contentment, of a finality and a feeling that all is right with the world, or Sweden at the very least.

The series is a staggering acheivement on several counts,which is all the more surprising because it breaks quite a few rules of genre crime fiction writing at several places. Larsson shows a tendency to employ digressions at key moments, which drag you away from the plot to explain, say, the backstory of a lesser character or completely unrelated trivia. It is also written in an extremely matter of fact style with very little embellishment (it could be because of the fact that the work is translated from Swedish). But these elements work perfectly in Millennium helping create a keen sense of anticipation in the reader at key moments only to suddenly whisk them away to a more mundane place leaving them gasping for breath.

What places Millennium a few notches above your standard issue crime thriller is the quality of its lead characters. Lisbeth Salander, it fiercely independent female protagonist, is an exasperatingly difficult person to deal with - she is more intelligent than everyone else around her, anti-social, a victim of horrific atrocities with a temparament that is liable to explode at the slightest hint of provocation. Mikael Blomkvist, is in many ways the exact opposite. He is a reluctant celebrity, a pathbreaking journalist with almost infinite patience and quite the ladies man. The promiscuity in general displayed by the characters, apart from the horrifying tales of misogyny, would be quite a shocker for the lay Indian reader. Not that India is in any way devoid of crimes against women, but the general impression of life in Scandinavian countries in our minds would probably be best described by high per-capita incomes, midnight suns and a sanitised lifestyle almost bordering on the boring.

Not since I read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell has a large work of fiction so consumed me (I tend to think of any book that goes beyond 500 pages as a large work of fiction.) I read the books in about five sittings with a strange nervous energy egging me on. Such was the lure of Lisbeth Salander and friends. My favorite book remains the first installment of the series- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for its leisurely depiction of the Scandinavian landscape, the weather and the lifestyle in addition to being a genuinely scary and disturbing crime investigation.

Highly recommended.

PS - Hat Tip to Jabberwock for the strong recommendation in his review. I would have steered clear of these books otherwise, especially given the corny titles.