Okay, I have an assignment for you.
If you are reading this today chances are you have read me before. Chances are also good that you know me at least a little bit. (This is not a blog popular enough to draw in many strangers, and for that I’m thankful. The one time that it did draw strangers was entirely too strange for my liking.)
Your assignment? You need to explain to me what exactly it is that I am missing in the
Stieg Larsson “The Girl With/Who” series. Every time I open up Entertainment Weekly they’ve got some blurb about how it’s a Publishing Phenomenon that the entire world is reading and loving.
I made it through two of the three books and have less than no desire to read the third.
What I saw was the bones of your typical Alex Delaware/Karin Slaughter/notasgoodas Val McDermid thriller with a Marysue Hero, a few boring stretches about Swedish arcana, and a very intensely over-the-top amount of sadistic violence described in loving, almost erotic detail. The thriller parts were passable, good enough for any beach read thriller truly. The Marysue hero can be forgiven even if it is ludicrous that every woman in Sweden (and a few in the former Soviet Bloc) wants to bed him. The Swedish arcana is deadly dull, but what book doesn’t have a bit or two you want to Evelyn Wood?
But the violence. It’s so gruesome. So grim. So lovingly detailed that I really honestly wonder about Larsson’s mental state.
I keep hoping that the runaway popularity of the series is that they are just being discovered by a wide audience who is so unfamiliar with the Thriller genre as to be wowed by a basic example of that type of book. Because the only other answer that I can see for the wildly enthusiastic reception is that people really do respond to that animalistic violence.
Is there that wide a sadistic streak in the world? Please tell me no.
You know, now that I write this out and think about it I do think that maybe I’m on to something with the genre thing. “Genre fiction” (paperback mysteries, romance, science fiction) has been so ghettoised that a lot of people just don’t read it. So when something makes an otherwise basic genre book seem literarily highbrow–written by a Swedish Journalist!–those who are Genre Naifs have no shame about consuming it. And they have fun. As most readers of Genre do all the time.
I sure hope it’s that. Because the alternative–bloodlust–is scary.