Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Millennium Trilogy Review

With the latest addition to the Millennium series recently launched, I believe it’s about time I reviewed the original trilogy, at least till the time I get my hands on ‘The Girl in the Spider's Web’ by David Lagercrantz!

The book summary for the original Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, as published is below for a quick acquaintance with the series.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, recently sidelined by a libel conviction  with bleak prospects  until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families disappeared without a trace more than forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to try to discover what happened to her and hires Blomkvist to investigate. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius, and pierced and tattooed computer prodigy with a cache of authority issues. Together they tap into a vein of unfathomable iniquity and astonishing corruption on their way to discovering the truth of Harriet Vanger’s fate.

The Girl Who Played with Fire
Mikael Blomkvist, now a crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government. On the eve of its publication, the two reporters responsible for the article are murdered, and the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to his friend Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist, convinced of Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation of the murders. Meanwhile, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous game of cat and mouse, which forces her to face her dark past.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Lisbeth Salander lies in critical condition, a bullet wound to her head, in the intensive care unit of a Swedish city hospital. She’s fighting for her life in more ways than one: if and when she recovers, she’ll be taken back to Stockholm to stand trial for three murders. With the help of Mikael Blomkvist, she will not only have to prove her innocence, but also identify and denounce those in authority who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to suffer abuse and violence. On her own, she will plot revenge—against the man who tried to kill her, and against the corrupt government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. Once upon a time, she was a victim. Now Salander is fighting back.

As one can imagine, the series is mostly about politics, with crime drama and a little of other ‘drama’, with the two main characters, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander at the helm. Though by the end of the trilogy, the plot was more focused on Salander with her life story carrying the series through.
The characters aren’t seemingly complex but certainly interesting. For e.g. the criminal Ronald Neidermann, a ‘Hulk-ish’ assassin who cannot feel pain, but happens to be scared of the dark, and of course Salander, an extreme introvert who is hostile to nearly everyone to the point of being unlikeable, a trained boxer, with a photographic memory and a computer wizard.

I found the character of Lisbeth as a memorable one esp.  for her strength and attitude. She is portrayed as unique, well-thought-through, mysterious, and somewhat consistent but slightly toeing the believability line. Even though she is portrayed as socially dysfunctional and eccentric in all kinds of ways, she is highly intelligent, strong and moralistic. Mikael Blomkvist, on the other hand, is shown as a holy crusader, who believes in a society based on equality and justice and lives to expose the hypocrisy and crimes of the privileged class.

The series is suspenseful but violent in nature and the treatment of women is ghastly to the point of misogynistic.  But like most of stories revolving around a female protagonist, the core of the series is related to sexual politics, with the power dynamic based on physical strength alone, without taking into consideration their intelligence or character.

The first book, ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ tells the story of Blomkvist and Salander, where naturally the case brings them to work together, and inexplicably sleeping together which serves absolutely no narrative purpose. The next two books, ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’, and ‘The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest’, follow the same story arc, which aims at clearing Lisbeth Salander of murder charges while they research the case of sex trafficking, and political intrigue in Sweden. There is obviously a bit more to the stories than this, but I can’t go in to too much detail without ruining the suspense of the books.

Each book of the trilogy follows the formula of a simple case turning in to something bigger. These novels are different however in the fact that the initial cases are already huge, but they become overshadowed by a case that is not necessarily bigger, but more personal. Research in sex trafficking is overshadowed by the double murder of a journalist and his academic girlfriend, as well as the pickle Salander finds herself in regarding her supposed role in the murders. And eventually the stories tie in to be part of the one big whole, just a little too conveniently, with everything becoming one big coincidence after another.

I still cannot fathom the technical specifications as they don’t really serve the plot in any way and hence feel that the descriptions and specs of what all hardware and software Salandar was using, was totally unnecessary. Also, I am no techie but the specs were already outdated by the time the books were released and thus failed to impress on any level.

‘The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo’, was my favourite of the three as I found the murder mystery plot more interesting than the political themes of the second and third books, although they were all pretty gripping, as they are well written, with a wealth of detail, though at times there was slightly too much attention to trifling matters and a slight tendency to overdo the recapping of previous plot lines; necessary, I suppose, if you are inexplicably reading the books out of order, but a bit frustrating otherwise.

One of the most engaging things about a series, apart from the progression of the plotline, is the writing style of the author. Unfortunately Stieg Larsson died, just months before the first book of the Millennium-series was released to the Swedish audience.  And therefore, I highly doubt if the next author would be able to do the characters proper justice as the real genius lies in the characterisations. Also, it is quite sad and disappointing when one discovers an author whose work you like and then realise there is nothing more of theirs to be read.

Just as an afterthought, I would like to voice my concern over the dispute about the so called ‘Feministic’ nature of these books, with people saying that finally they are given a strong, female, literary role model, but I disagree. Firstly, because there is a lot more to Salander than just strength, like intelligence and common sense, which I find to be usually lacking these days, and secondly, there are a lot more strong literary  female characters like Hester from ‘The Scarlet Letter’, ‘The Little Women’, and even as children, like Matilda or Sara from ‘A Little Princess’, just a few that come to mind right now.

Personally, I don’t like when most characters eventually come to rely on the men in their lives for strength and support but I guess that’s the real tragedy of this thought-process - the idea of the ‘us and them’ mentality. I really hope that it doesn’t need to be that way. Women don’t need to be fine without men, the same way that men don’t need to be fine without women. We can and may need each other from time to time, not as gendered beings, but just as people.

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