Thursday, March 10, 2011

An open letter to Stieg...

Dear Stieg,

I hope you do not mind my lack of formality. Having read your writing I feel I have come to know something of you, or at least a little of how you think about certain things. Starting a letter “Dear Mr Larsson” sounds a little to prim for my liking.

I have just finished reading your Millennium Trilogy. I must say, you had me going there… in the past years, since I took to writing myself, I have hardly read three books, let alone a trilogy of three full books! And full they are too. Eighteen hundred and fifty pages altogether – at least in the edition I have read. It is probably just as well you had a publisher – I’d hate to have posted out self-published versions to all my friends and family. Just think of all that postage! If I wasn’t a Luddite, the physical weight of your masterpieces would be enough to tempt me into a acquiring a Kindle! But enough of technology.

I must say, in Lisbeth Salander, you have created one hell of a character – an enigma indeed! If only I had a photographic memory like hers, I could at least remember how to spell the words I use in my own writing without the need for a spell checker on my computer, or an over-large version of the Concise Oxford Dictionary taking up valuable space on my over-full desk. Still… Oh! for the life of a published author… But it must have been a pain for you with drafts of the three manuscripts, presumably on A4 paper, spread all over your desk as you kept track of the various and complex threads of the Millennium story. (Do they have A4 in Sweden?)

Looking back, I think it was your plot that got me hooked. It was not the writing. I am sorry, but it may be a feature of the translation from Swedish to English – I’m not familiar with Reg’s work – but I do find the writing somewhat stilted. However, I do accept that it could, of course, be a function of my northern heritage. Or the fact that it appears to have been a UK edited American translation of your original Swedish… Now, there is potential for mixed messages, if ever there was! But, dear-o-dear, Stieg, did you really have to put a complete page-worth of shopping items from Ikea into the “The Girl Who Played with Fire”? For me – and I know this is wholly subjective – it was painful to read. It is bad enough that the interiors of many UK middle-class homes suffer from identikit Swedish-look decors, fuelled by the propensity of UK TV broadcasters to schedule make-over programmes that lack any sense of creativity and play on the lack of taste and mediocrity that are characteristic of the proletariat. But to have to read the names of items I have purposely avoided purchasing in the past, just did not do it for me.

I do like the idea of rogue departments of the security services being left out in the cold, forgotten and clearly up to no good. The clarity of this idea in the "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest" is superb. Globally, there must be a whole darn mess of them, particularly in both the UK and the US. Your trilogy raises some interesting political and social questions which you clearly had in mind when writing it. Yet I think the conflation of the social and political elements across the series lends a somewhat schizophrenic air to the plot – particularly in the first novel – that I feel is compounded by the titles. I do think that some might wonder if the "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" had an earlier and less feminine title at its first draft. (Quickly Googles for info: Men who hate Women; my question is answered.)

Was the first novel always a part of a trilogy? Or did you find by the end of the manuscript that the girl you had merely introduced to help the hero – Blomkvist – in the first novel, took on a role bigger than initially envisaged and, like a juggernaut, the plot started to take on a significant momentum as it careered down the slope of your narrative arc? Knowing something of the penchant of publishers and editors to change the work of the “artist” writer (and that fact that you were clearly unable, for obvious and wholly unfortunate reasons, to argue any differently), are you happy that the choice of titles for the English language edition do justice to the concept you held for the series? For my part, the first novel would have made more sense to me if the title had been more reflective of your original choice.

If, as I have said, I find the writing a little off for me, why might I agree with the popular voice in congratulating you on the success of your series? Why might I be writing to you, today, to add my voice to the millions of other readers who have enjoyed your work? Well, if I may, I will make an observation drawn on someone you may well have met recently (or if not, you should look him up and have a chat with him!) Oscar Wilde once said that “Anybody can write a three-volumed novel. It merely requires a complete ignorance of both life and literature.” (The Critic as an Artist.) Yet, he also said that “Literature always anticipates life. It does not copy it, but moulds it to its purpose.” (The Decay of Lying.) In the Millennium Trilogy, I feel that you have, indeed, moulded life for a purpose. Not “Anybody” could achieve such purpose and I thank you for demonstrating that. I think it is a shame that that purpose may well be obscured by its popularity – a product not of the artist but of the publishing industry.

My thoughts are with you.


David Sartof


  1. If only he'd had a decent editor .... sigh!

  2. Only the Brits could rip somebody and make it sound like high praise.

    But, actually, Stieg Larsson actually has a fourth book in the series coming out:

    The Girl With the Tattoo Who Kicked the Brit and Played After Setting Him on Fire.

    Note: Sponsored by IKEA.

  3. Oooooo... Greg! What he needed, IMHO, was a good Editor :)

    I'm waiting for the fourth book - I believe it is held up in a dispute over the estate. I understand, under Swedish law, his partner of many years has little entitlement to benefit from the manuscript in her possession!

  4. Unfortunately, I think posts like these mean more after they can no longer hurt the writer. I probably won't read any of mine after I get there. If I get there at all. All the same, valid points. And probably worth more to other writers, not the author.

  5. Hi Sharon, I have a sneaky suspicion that Stieg would not be offended… I think the series is a cracking read, and I can recommend them if you are into crime thrillers.

    I also think that criticism is something that needs to be taken seriously... too many people criticize rather than offer critique. We should never be afraid of (or above) the latter.

    And don’t worry… you’ll get there! :)

  6. David,
    In my former field, if only 1% of the people I called wanted to do business with me, it was enough to make quite a career, and support a family of 6. It didn't have the sting critique or rejection does now, for some reason. I shouldn't be so sensitive to this, but alas, I am. Getting better, tho'. And it probably has more to do with some very mean girls in my grammar school days, skipping a grade, having to struggle without all the emotional tools available to me now.
    You are completely right about not shying away from the reality of our writing. Learning to love it, but be able to scrap it anyway, is necessary in order to hone our craft.
    You give me courage. Thank you, my friend.

  7. Sharon, if just 1% of the people of the world thought as you thought, the world would be a better place!

  8. Great letter, David! Lots of my friends have read this series and I admit, I own a print and digital copy, but haven't sat down to crack open either yet!

    I wonder what it was specifically that made this book so appealing to so many readers? My dad said it was the characters and the story, but also said, like you did, the translation did not make for smooth writing.

    I suppose I'll have to succumb and read the darn thing!!

  9. You should, C.J.! Stick with the writing - your dad is right... IMHO :)