I picked up a copy of the latest Books Quarterly, the Waterstones magazine, at the weekend (issue 34, 2009) and discovered that it contains an article by Val McDermid on Stieg Larsson. I thought I'd mention the article here, especially as Books Quarterly is now available online, but before I could do so, the author burst into the news again in three articles.
The most significant of these is at Crime Scraps, where blogger Norman Price (a.k.a. Uriah Robinson) has finished the third in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, and reviews the novel in particular, the Stieg Larsson phenomenon in general, and provides a useful set of links to previous reviews and discussion of these books. Significantly, one conclusion of Norman's about the trilogy is that "when any state regards some citizens as less important than others, we are on that slippery slope to totalitarianism".
In the second article, last Thursday, The Times jumped onto the "Stieg Larsson legacy" bandwagon, concerning the dispute between his putative legatees, and which I won't rehash here. ("Losing the plot over the cash" was the insensitive headline.)
And in a third article, Vanity Fair published a two-page article by Christopher Hitchens, a typically acerbic article laced with innuendo and speculation, which combines the themes of the previous two pieces: a review/retrospective of the books and a rehash of the family dispute. Hitchens is quite critical of everyone concerned including the books themselves and the characters therein, concluding that the books' success are down to "emotionless efficiency of Swedish technology, paradoxically combined with the wicked allure of the pitiless elfin avenger, plus a dash of paranoia surrounding the author’s demise."
What I actually set out to write in this post was a short piece about the Books Quarterly article by Val McDermid, which like the previous three articles is partly a review of the Hornet's Nest (publisher: MacLehose Press) and partly an analysis of the Stieg Larsson phenomenon. In response to a question about the characters' reading habits by Martin Edwards, Val McDermid has paid more attention than I did, revealing that Blomkvist (the hero) reads Sue Grafton through Sara Paretsky to "my own work" as Val McDermid puts it, in her view books that become more threatening in keeping with the increasing darkness of the novels. Salander herself, of course, reads Nature. (Val McDermid picks up one or two more of Larsson's word games with names.) It is a very good piece, and I recommend it as a sincere tribute to this author who died so tragically young — or "The Man Who Died Too Soon" as the article's title would have it.
But what is even better than this is an extract from an email by Larsson, written to his publisher Eva Gedin, on 30 April 2004. (Larsson died on 9 November of that year.) He writes:
I’ve tried to create main characters who are drastically different from the types who generally appear in crime novels. Mikael Blomkvist, for instance, doesn’t have ulcers, or booze problems or an anxiety complex. He doesn’t listen to operas, nor does he have an oddball hobby such as making model aeroplanes. He doesn’t have any real problems, and his main characteristic is that he acts like a stereotype ‘slut’, as he admits himself. I’ve also changed the sex roles on purpose: in many ways Blomkvist acts like a typical “bimbo”, while Lisbeth Salander has stereotype ‘male’ characteristics and values…..
….I abhor crime novels in which the main character can behave however he or she pleases, or do things that normal people don’t do without those actions having social consequences. If Mikael Blomkvist shoots somebody with a pistol, even in self-defence, he will end up in dock.
Lisbeth Salander is the exception to this quite simply because she is a sociopath with psychopathic traits, and doesn’t function like ordinary people. She doesn’t have the same concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as normal people, but she also has to face up to the consequences of that.
The email contains more of Stieg Larsson's thoughts on his characters of Salander and Blomqvist, and his opinions on crime fiction as a genre. It is very sad experience to read possibly the last words ever by this very talented author, at a time when he was so full of hope and involvement in his wonderful creations.