There’s been a definite buzz over the last six months or more concerning Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and it made a perfect Christmas present for Menno in a thrifty year. He saw the books off sharpish and then it was my turn. I’d heard so much hype about the originality of the heroine and the intelligence of the writing, let’s just say there was a lot of anticipation.
I’ll accept that this is just a simple crime novel with no lofty aspirations to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but with so much bigging up in the media, I expected more than this. The characterisation was a bit clumsy, using (brand) name-dropping too often and lots of “telling” rather than “showing”.
Lisbeth Salander, the ‘remarkable’ heroine, I found not so amazing, and inconsistent. The amount of violence towards women and Lisbeth, I thought a bit too gruesome. As for the journalist, Mikael, the strength of his sexual allure was rather predictable and cringeworthy, close as his character is to that of the writer himself. I will say, though, that the Vanger family mystery thread is quite good.
Despite all this I picked up the second book (it’s supposed to be ‘even better’). I put it promptly back down after a few pages. More of the same, a young girl shackled and abused, etc and it’s not something I want to read right before bedtime. I love a good murder mystery as much as the next person but I think crime fiction needs to look outside this fascination with rape and bondage. How about a nice bank robbery or poison-in-curry story?
When I was a young girl or maybe even a teenager, one of my favourite things was to take my school atlas and, using only the pages showing North America, transcribe all the place names into a separate little book with a freshly sharpened pencil, crossing them off as they were recorded. I loved the sound and the look of the placenames on the page and for some reason they seemed the most exotic and characteristic of all of the nations included within the atlas, despite the fact that I had probably not even made it to France at that stage. Walking by the local bookstore this morning brought that name-affection back to me with a notice for the evening’s book-reading, ‘Names on the Land – A historical account of place naming in the United States’.
I was absolutely satisfied. A variety of readers (some better than others) treated a good-sized audience to snippets of the book and opened up about bits of their land-connections and musings on nomenclature. And normal people asked straight-forward questions without any pretentiousness. For the country itself, I learned that some of the alternate names offered instead of the United States of America were: Freedonia, Alleghania and Columbia. The writer, George R Stewart, scorns the one that was settled for in the end. Needless to say, I bought the book and read three chapters in one night which, by the way, is really good for me.
‘No one knows when man came, or who gave the first names. Perhaps the streams still ran high from the melting ice-cap, and strange beasts roamed the forest. And since names – corrupted, transferred, re-made – outlive men and nations and languages, it may even be that we still speak daily some name which first meant “Saber-tooth Cave” or “Where-we-killed-the-ground-sloth”.