A CRITICAL READER’S REVIEW”
With regard to my review of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’, ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’), I preface my remarks by admitting a background in editing and publishing. I am not an average reader, but neither do I imply I have the writing skills or the creativity to produce literary fiction, because I don’t. I am merely afflicted with critical reading skills. The following observations are simply my thoughts and I read the Millennium Trilogy purely for pleasure.
Regarding the many and obvious flaws in the Millennium Trilogy, in this particular situation it is my understanding that Stieg Larsson died after his manuscript submission and it is unclear how much editing direction, if any, he was able to comply with. It is unclear to me whether he was alive during the editorial process at all, in which case rewrites may not have been an option. A sticky ethical and legal situation may have made substantive manuscript changes impossible, but mechanical editing should still have been performed as basic publishing requirements.
While I love the Millennium Trilogy, I was aware of Stieg Larsson’s writing weaknesses throughout the novels. The inconsistencies in his writing did not ruin the reading experience for me on the whole; they simply ambushed me along the way.
While Blomqvist, and particularly Salander, are well-drawn characters and the plot is compelling, the writing lacks restraint and sometimes continuity. Over-writing is not necessarily a bad thing on a first draft, but at some point it will need tightening by the writer, under direction from a skilled editor. Under normal circumstances, a critical first reader could have edited the novel for continuity by making notes, but at the very least the publisher’s editorial staff would have performed this function. Even a novice editor in charge of the ‘slush pile’ could have picked up on continuity and inconsistencies in the writing. It is unfortunate that Mr. Larsson and the publisher could not do justice to the scope and complexity of the Millennium Trilogy due to his unforseen death.
Who should take responsibility for the substantive failures of the published trilogy? Perhaps no-one is to blame. Every publisher tries to ensure that the reader is not cheated of either money, time or reading experience. Sadly, in this case, each novel in the Millennium Trilogy is very long and yet there are things missing, inadequately expressed or just plain forgotten about. There are spelling errors. These should have been corrected. The beginning chapters of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ are unnecessarily long to set up the plot and characters, and a bit disjointed. I did not begin to enjoy the novel until Lisbeth Salander was firmly embedded in the plot through her contact with Blomqvist. Again, Mr. Larsson’s untimely death may have hindered part of the editorial process.
Understandably, with his training in journalism, the mechanics of fiction writing may not have been Larsson’s strong point. A background in journalism does not necessarily give a writer a good foundation for writing fiction; they are different disciplines and need different approaches and skills…particularly ‘voice’, the bane of fiction writers and the most difficult skill to maintain. With editorial guidance, some of these flaws would, I’m sure, have been addressed.
The things that bother readers about the Millennium Trilogy should normally have bothered the professional editors in-house before the books ever went to print. I wish I knew the sequence of events in-house after Mr. Larsson’s death. As the author died without a will (and thereby ownership of the novels fell, unfortunately, to his father and brother rather than Eva Gabrielsson, his long-time companion) it should have been possible for the legal heirs, upon suggestion by editorial staff and with the help of Larson’s confidant Eva, to hire a skilled book doctor who could make substantive manuscript changes. As ownership of Mr. Larsson’s body of work is still being contested to this day, the publisher may have been pressured by the heirs to go to print in order for them to collect their royalties. I won’t give my opinion on that travesty here. Still, mechanical editing falls under the responsibility of the publisher. No publisher can be legally forced to publish spelling, simple continuity and grammatical errors; that defies common sense.
In conclusion, while the Millennium Trilogy is certainly flawed, the saving grace is the unique, quirky and compelling character of Lisbeth Salander. The plots are complex and interesting but the Millennium Trilogy is largely character-driven. As a reader, my interest in Lisbeth Salander far outstrips my interest in the vagaries of twisted plot lines. I truly enjoyed reading the novels and forgive the many writing flaws simply because the author never had the opportunity to tighten, focus or rewrite parts of his lengthy and ambitious body of work. Still…spelling and continuity errors?
I’ll miss Lisbeth Salander.
Jean Ferguson i Toronto, Canada
Submitted: 5 May 2012