The Man Who Wrote the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I’ve just finished Stieg Larsson’s marvellous crime thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.   It’s the third book in a trilogy, but with  typical incompetence, I bought the second book – The Girl Who Played with Fire -  before the first, and read it on holiday.  So I have been reading them in the wrong order (and I also won’t read the third book until it’s out in paperback.)

It’s a tribute to the quality of Larsson’s storytelling that the books make sense this way round – book 2 scrupulously explains all that has happened before, so I had no trouble following it. And I found it rather satisfying to see events happening in Book 1 to which I knew the consequences. 

And both novels are densely plotted, gripping, and rich in amazing characters, several of them extraordinary at a genetic level (though even so, this is a long way from being science fiction!)  I’d say that all the praise heaped upon these books is deserved. They are, admittedly, written in heavily expositional prose – sometimes verging on guide-book prose – and there were times when it felt like being trapped in a lift with a garrulous history lecturer.  But Larsson’s a storyteller, not a stylist; and I was hugely impressed at the way he interweaves his different tales. In Dragon Tattoo, he pulls off the rare feat of  bringing a murder story to a climax – and THEN re-embarking on the novel’s original story, which is all about a crooked financier, and having a second climax that is even better than the first.

I always think that when you read a great novel, you end up loving the author.  Stephen King, for instance, is present on every page of his best novels (when the ‘King’ voice is absent the books are sometimes, though not always, less good.)  And it’s impossible to read a Neil Gaiman without believing that you know and are best friends with this amiable, witty, soft-hearted, hard-headed richly imaginative guy. 

In the same way, I felt I came to know and like Larsson. I could tell, from the way he writes, that he’s a ‘fact’ person, an intense person, an obsessive person; but also that he has a big heart, and  a love of life.  He’s very interested indeed in sex, and loves and understands women. And his political fervour and insight is utterly genuine (he had a career as a radical journalist before writing the three books of his Millennium trilogy.)

Do you get that feeling too? A sense that a writer whose work you love is at some level your friend?  Someone you’d love to spend time with?

Tragically, that will never happen.  Larsson died at the age of 50, of a stupidly capricious heart attack, just after delivering the manuscripts of his three novels. 

I knew about Larsson’s untimely death before I read the books, and thought it was very tragic. But now I’ve actually read the books - I have a feeling of actual grief. Of course, I never knew him; of course, he never knew me.  But dammit, I miss him.

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