Apparently my top search category is ‘tits and bums’

That’ll fuck over the people who were looking for tits and bums (Probably my 13 year old nephew. STOP LOOKING FOR PORNOGRAPHY AND DO YOUR HOMEWORK.) The post titled ‘tits and bums’ was actually about Leonardo da Vinci. See? I’m useful! Educating perverts all over the place. Anyway, I didn’t come here to talk about tits and bums.  I actually came here to bitch about books. Hurray.

One of the biggest ironies of the publishing industry is that so many writers get their manuscripts rejected ‘Because we’re not sure it will sell’ while the industry itself throws millions into the business of hype over merit.

A dull, nearly plotless book about a lip-chewing teenage irritant and the crap vampire who loves her can be turned into a four book franchise with movie spinoffs, multi-million dollar merchandising, red carpet – the whole shebang. Where other editors found nothing but tedium in the pages of Twilight, some bright, infernal spark realised she’d hit marketing paydirt. Boring book about boring teenage girl who never shuts up about her boring boyfriend? You’ve definitely got an audience for that (or a demographic, if you want to be perfectly filthy about it) – the world is full of boring teenage girls who think the solar system revolves around some dirtbag’s glans.

So, I’m not sure what the editors were thinking when The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo turned up in the slush pile. Personally, my reaction would have been along the lines of ‘Well, that’s sad – if he’d spent less time writing this crap and more time at the gym he might still be here smelling the roses,’ but then I don’t work in publishing and I quit a job in marketing to make a living cleaning toilets. It somehow felt a lot less demeaning.

The initial reaction was probably ‘Yay, celebrity corpse!’, especially since I gather there was some tinfoil hattery about Larsson’s death due to his work exposing bad motherfuckers from all walks of life. I don’t know anything about his work as a journalist and I hope he was a good one, because he was a fucking godawful novelist.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is what happens when you buy a book from a dead man. Dead authors are great to work with – any editor will tell you. You don’t have to listen to their nervous breakdowns, their pleas for deadline extensions or their bullheaded protests when you suggest they change the whole setting of the novel, genderswitch the main characters and make them fuck one another.

The downside of dead authors is that they don’t do much. They can’t edit that promising but messy barf-draft that landed on your desk because they’re too busy pushing up daisies. Short of hiring a necromancer you’re never going to pull off a convincing edit, so you do the next best thing – you cut the head off a black cockerel, draw a pentagram on the floor in its blood, perform the requisite incantation to the Father of Lies and summon up the creatures from the Marketing Department.

They can’t edit the draft. They can’t tidy it up and make it read like a real book, but they can sure as hell make it look like one. It has a striking cover, an interesting new title (The novel was originally titled Men Who Hate Women.) and it smells convincingly of new print when you lift it off the shelf in the bookshop.

Unfortunately, it still reads like a draft.

This is my main problem with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – it’s so sloppy it must be a first draft. The plot, such as it is, is bracketed on either side by two unhewn megaliths of irrelevant subplot, all conveyed through infodump.

Worse, the subplot is about financial journalism, a subject so boring it makes a laundry  list look like the secret diaries of the Marquis de Sade. Told through the dry medium of bland exposition, it is this that makes The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo live up to its promise as a page turner. I did keep turning the page, in the increasingly frantic and forlorn hope that something would fucking happen on the next one.

An editor worth their salt would, of course, have told Steig to take an axe to this shit or at least told him to rewrite it in such a way that the reader is forced to give a damn about it. It’s very difficult to feel any particular way about the main character’s nemesis when said nemesis doesn’t even personally appear in the book. As I slugged my way through the denser-than-a-neutron-star exposition and the endless inventories of Blomqvist’s IKEA collection, my eyes began sliding off the page and I started reading the absent antagonist’s name as Wernstrom – and then I had Professor Farnsworth’s voice in my head.

Now you have too. You’re welcome.

So, anyway – the actual plot. Well, I like a good locked room mystery. Or a tidelocked island mystery. Nice twist on a classic. Sadly we find out in the prologue that Pops Vanger is still receiving pressed flowers on his birthday and that Harriet’s body was never found, at which point the plot twist can be heard coughing loudly and knocking things over in the next room.

It doesn’t help that Blomqvist is the dullest author avatar in literary history. Even Bella Swann looks like Maggie Tulliver compared to this damp strand of dill. If auras existed, Blomqvist’s would be beige. His spirit animal would be Chris Martin. He shambles through the story eating sandwiches, drinking coffee, describing sandwiches and mysteriously having sex with almost every significant female character.

Maybe he’s meant to be boring role as a foil for Salander, a tattooed bisexual infogrrl clumsily assembled by TVTropes. She has a high spec laptop (Well, sort of.), a bunch of tattooes, a dark past and a collection of irritating t-shirts that are probably a great source of amusement to the kind of person who regularly uses the word ‘snarky’. I daresay she probably invites the description ‘kickass’ too, but I’m going to have to stop there as contemplating such things is making me feel lightheaded and strangely sick.

As far as being a feminist book goes…sorry. I just can’t. I cannot take this fucking seriously. This is Russ Meyer, not Mary Woolestonecraft. Never mind Men Who Hate Women – this review may as well be called Women Who Hate Men Who Write Thinly Veiled Exploitation Porn About Women In The Hope That Women Will Like Them.

Or The Girl With The Pandering Stu – either works. Honestly – fuck this shit. Every single woman who demonstrates her strength or power in this book does so as a reaction to male abuse, which is described in lurid and sensational detail. As a study of misogyny it falls absolutely flat because all the misogynist characters are basically moustache twirling strawmen bent on rape. When they finally come across the villains in one of the most disappointing denouments in recent fiction, the villain is like “Oh yeah – we hate women and love rape,” Blomqvist is all “You’re terrible people,” and the villain is like “Yeah, no shit – we also love Hitler, incest and dismembering cats.”

In real life, of course, misogyny is much more insidious and subtle – well, unless you’re on the right of American politics and then it’s pretty much Sluts, Cunts, Whores and Bitches all the time. But seriously – it’s actually kind of insulting to reduce all Men Who Hate Women to incestuous Nazi whackjobs like the Vangers. It really belittles the kind of crap that real women have to put up with on a daily basis.

Obviously I can’t blame the whole feminist bullshit angle on Larsson, who was dead by the time the marketing machine went into action, but whoever first touted Larssen as the first feminist crime novelist deserves to be beaten with the complete works of Agatha Christie. And, you know – P.D. James. Ruth Rendell might want to get in a few whacks too. Or Minette Walters, or Patricia Cornwell, or Anne Perry or Sarah Waters or W. Ellis Peters or Lynda LaPlante or Nora Roberts or…well, you get the picture.

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2 responses to “Apparently my top search category is ‘tits and bums’

  1. This had me laughing out loud.

    “the villain is like “Oh yeah – we hate women and love rape,” Blomqvist is all “You’re terrible people,” and the villain is like “Yeah, no shit – we also love Hitler, incest and dismembering cats.”

    I think there is a novel buried somewhere inside The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo…but it does read like a first draft.

    • Yeah. It’s not too deeply buried but the trouble is I don’t think it’s a very good novel either. The whole thing is so dull that even the lurid scenes seem strangely flat, you know what I mean? Poor guy – I actually feel kind of sorry for him. It’s enough of a bummer to drop dead at fifty but to have someone publish your rough drafts when you’re in no position to edit them? Eesh.

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