Sunday, August 24, 2008

TATTOO BALLYHOO



I have nothing but great admiration for the anti-fascist and anti-violence stances taken by the crusading journalist Stieg Larsson but the increasing ballyhoo with regard to his first novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is becoming quite ridiculous. 

I have reviewed the novel here and  posted about the Stieg Larsson phenomenon here.

Yesterday the The Times Books section lead story was entitled 'Monster hit , the extraordinary story behind the literary sensation, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' and the entire cover devoted to a photo of a girl with a tattoo that appeared to be borrowed from the cover of a John Burdett  Bangkok novel. You can read the full article here.

The on line article does not include some of the print version side bar comments such as:

'The ballyhoo is fully justified.' Marcel Berlins, The Times

'Swedish crime fiction like the country, has both class and social conscience. It was only a matter of time before it produced its own War and Peace.' 
Sydney Morning Herald

'It doesn't get better than this.' Gefle Dagblad, Sweden

It almost makes it a pleasant change to come back to earth and read a dissenting voice such as this over the top quite vicious review from the Charleston City paper. The ballyhoo is such that although the Times article makes play with the fact that 'Tattoo' was nominated for the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger it fails to mention that it did not win, and lost out to Dominique Manotti's taut political thriller Lorraine Connection reviewed here.

We can remember Stieg Larsson as a great campaigner for righteous causes but let us not get carried away The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is not a great book. It is certainly  not in the class of the novels of Sjowall and Wahloo, Henning Mankell, Arnaldur Indridason, Karin Fossum, and Jo Nesbo. 

I believe Larsson was learning his craft with Tattoo and I fully expect The Girl Who Played With Fire, his second book which did win the Basta Svenska Kriminalroman in 2006, to be  a much better structured and plotted effort.
The danger is that with all the hype and overblown praise heaped on Tattoo new readers to Scandinavian crime fiction will be put off by the turgid beginning and other faults in Larsson's book from reading more accomplished authors. There is an interesting post from Petrona here with links to reviews of some excellent Nordic crime fiction.

As far as I am concerned The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, even with Lisbeth Salander, is a far inferior book to any of the three Jo Nesbo books I have read and reviewed here, here and here or the gripping Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theoren reviewed here

More insanity here with a suggestion that Stieg Larsson should get the Nobel Prize for Literature!

11 Comments:

Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Great post, Norm. Very honest response to the Larsson publicity storm.

Cheers

gb

9:16 AM  
OpenID maxine said...

You make some very good points in your post, Norm. I agree with you that this book does not stand "heads and shoulders" above other journalism-crime books (eg Liza Marklund) though I certainly enjoyed it. I guess as these books are all produced by different publishers, each publisher is "doing their bit". For example the other week the saturday Times book supplement had a similar feature on Mo Hayder. I can't recall if she was on the actual cover of the supplement but the feauture consisted of a full page photo of her and an interview. Yes her book was good (ish) but not heads and shoulders above others published this year. (Many, many, many of which the Times does not deign to review, even "in brief".)

In short, I take the pragamatic approach that I presume these features on specific books are somehow arranged or "booked" by the publishers for a price, just as they have to pay for certain display space or discount offers in bookshops.

I think your point about S. Larsson learning his craft in "Tattoo" is a very perceptive one. I agree that the book had a lot of "first novel" about it, and I presume the editor/translator were hampered in not being able to discuss cuts with the author. I hope you are right and that the second volume of the trilogy is a more mature work, as well as more focused. I am looking forward to reading it (though the girl on the cover, shown at Karen's blog the other day, looks nothing like the way I imagine Lisbeth to look!).

That review at the Charleston city paper is pretty damning isn't it?!

So glad you liked Theoren by the way. An extremely impressive debut and I wonder if we will see his publisher putting as much effort behind him, particularly when paperback publication looms (as now for Tattoo)? His publisher is one of the majors....

Nesbo got posters in the London Underground and train services by the way, though not a massive feature in the Times ;-) I got quite fond of the poster for Nemesis on Vauxhaull station, just at the spot where I board the train (when it isn't too packed to get on, that is, but that's another saga).

9:20 AM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nice to hear a dissenting voice. I have not read the book, and I deliberately avoided even buying it for some time because of the hype. When the sensation dies down, I thought, I may read it. But it shows no sign of doing so, and the book's American release could prolong the fuss.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
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10:20 PM  
Blogger Kerrie said...

Ooh! You and I have to agree to differ here Norm. I gave it 4.8 on my rating system, but I read it for the story, not for Larsson's moral soapbox. No way would I think it would be Nobel prize material. I think some of the hype has emerged because Larsson died so young, before the first novel was even published I think. I saw something similar happen on the 4MA group when Barbara Seranella died just before what turned out to be her final book was published. People had trouble separating the quality of the book from the unfortunate early death of the writer.

3:40 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Gerard. I am always wary of any media blitz about anything and even Ali Karim while touting Tattoo as a winner of the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger admitted he had not read Lorraine Connection.

'Personally, I was shocked that Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did not win the International Dagger, as it was a standout novel. But of course, I hadn’t read Dominique Manotti’s Lorraine Connection (translated by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz), so did not recognize the competition it presented. All I could do was shake Mark Smith’s hand in commiseration.' From the Rap Sheet.

5:02 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Maxine for your comments.
I enjoyed reading about Lisbeth Salander but other parts of the book dragged horribly. In my opinion Jo Nesbo is able to get across much of the same message with more subtlety.
As far as the casting of the movie and the cover photo this must be the worst case of misrepresentation since they cast John Hannah as Rebus. I do seem to be in a critical mood at the moment ;o)
No I have thought of a worse piece of casting;
Beatrice Adela Estrange Bradley-physically she is almost repulsive. With her claw like hands , yellow arms and shriveled skin.....from the introduction to a Mrs Bradley mystery and they cast DIANA RIGG in the part. :0)

5:14 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Peter what had put me off was the sheer bulk of the book.

Kerrie I agree 100% with Larsson on his moral stands against fascism and violence against women, it is the quality of the book with which I disagree with his admirers.

I see that you gave Tattoo 4.8 on your ratings system and Nemesis by Jo Nesbo 5.0. So in fact we do agree Nemesis is superior;0)

One of the other books nominated for the Duncan Lawrie This Nights Foul Work by the eccentrically brilliant Fred Vargas was also a better read than Tattoo but if we did not disagree on some things life would be very dull and blogging a lot less fun.

5:28 AM  
Blogger Glenn Harper said...

It is indeed good to hear some dissenting voices: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is overlong, with some aspects of the popular/bestseller thriller in its plotting. Nesbø is, I agree, a better writer (nothing in Larsson's writing is as good as the opening pages of Devil's Star, which is a tour de force). And in a more specific head-to-head, Manotti's Lorraine Connection is a terse, unpredictable, and wholly original novel, and I'm happy that her book won the prize.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks very much Glenn for your comments. It is very good to hear that we agree on this because from the content of your blog it is clear you 'know your onions'.

The Devil's Star was absolutely brilliant and actually I thought it to be a better book than The Redbreast and am definitely looking forward to The Redeemer out next year.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

As I think I've commented here before, I thought the the Larsson was fantastic. However, I didn't read it in English. I recently picked up the English version to have a look, and found the translation really clunky - I don't think I'd have enjoyed it nearly as much. I do know there were translation problems. As far as relative quality goes, a Swedish and German speaking friend of mine is halfway through the original, and we're going to compare notes on the translations later. (I can almost justify this as work...)

More generally, I don't mind a bit of wandering and excess prose in a text, and thus wasn't put off by it here, but that's a personal preference. (Based in part on the fact that I do some research on Thomas Mann, I suspect!) And I've read enough books with a rather bloodless approach to social issues (or ignores them completely for the sake of gore) to be glad to fined something that's really angry, even if the quality of the prose suffers a bit.

Finally, and this is another personal quirk, a lot of the books/authors that have received such high recent praise (Nesbo, esp. in the Redbreast) Phillip Kerr, one of the K.O Dahl novels, Krajewski's Death in Breslau, for example) involve uncovering and dealing with aspects of the past that lie very close to my own research interests or personal history.

As a result, the plot often doesn't have the force or shock it might (Norway and Nazism, here we go again...), and stories for me thus stand or fall on their characters and settings more than usual, and more than is probably desirable in a reader. Which means the fact that I don't like, say, Harry Hole, has more more impact than it probably should. (And Kerr has the additional problem of competing with classic authors from the period, whose works I know too well to avoid making comparisons.) Not that the authors themselves are to blame for this!

To cut this short: given the above, the fact that Larsson's investigations and subsequent conspiracy in books two and three have a different historical background appealed to me a lot more. And Lisbeth is more interesting than Harry. (This could well be an age thing, which may also explain why I thought the Theorin was beautiful but dull.)

Anyway, this is a rather long-winded explanation for why I rate Girl with a Dragon Tattoo so highly - but I agree that the hype is ridiculous.

Incidentally, after a reread I'd agree with the above comments that Manotti's Lorraine Connection is definitely a better book in an objective sense. But I didn't enjoy it as much as Larsson's grandiose sprawl. I suppose I like to see the rough edges sometimes.

4:33 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks for your comments Lauren.
I think we probably agree on quite a lot. For instance the hype is ridiculous, Lorraine Connection is a better book and that crime fiction should address social problems if it can.
I understand what you mean about the Kerr, Krajewski, Dahl and Redbreast stories having read so many non fiction books about the period as well as discussing it with people who lived through those events. Many were reluctant of course to talk about those terrible times and that is why I think books are so important to tell that story.
I don't mind them repeating those events in a fiction book over and over again as a warning from history. Many young people might read a crime thriller and learn about what went on where they would not read a non fiction book or a classic author from the period.


Indeed sometimes knowing too much does spoil the tension e.g Enigma by Robert Harris when you guess it is Katyn Wood that is the terrible secret.
I admit the reason I like some of the books are that I can either identify with the characters, or have come across people who the fictional characters resemble.
For example I could identify with Harry and Gerlof Davidsson [it's my age;O) ] and know people who in different circumstances could act like Tom Waaler and Nils Kant.
Lisbeth Salander is indeed an intriguing character and after your recommendations I am looking forward to the next two books in the series.

6:48 AM  

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