Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Summary
Mikael Blomkvist is an investigative journalist who is presented with a locked-room mystery to solve, all the while seeking to restore his tarnished reputation.  He is joined in the investigation by a hacker prodigy, Lisbeth Salander, who manages to get into everyone's computer with very little trouble.  They run into Swedish Nazis, serial killers, and corrupt officials; they must deal with a completely dysfunctional family that, were it not for the fact that they form the core of a powerful corporation, inspire very little interest.

A locked-room mystery wrapped up inside a legal procedural tied up with a bow of journalistic intrigue.  That's the premise that keeps the reader plowing through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo despite a multitude of pointless diversions into amoral lifestyle choices.

Even were I able to write with such detail, such interesting characters, such wonderful powers of description, I'd still leave out all the sex.

It begs the question: If Stieg Larsson[1] had left out all the pointless promiscuity, would it have sold as well?  Probably not.  My cynical self believes that this world is too crippled by a fascination with lust and pornography and selfish sensuality to reward authors who don't descend to that level.

Naturally, I don't include any of the youth-oriented titles such as Harry Potter because they are, after all, targeted towards family audiences who would not respond favorably to such plot diversions.  I speak only of the general adult fiction that fills the shelves these days.  Wandering through the shelves at the local library[2], one observes that there are very few modern books in the standard fiction genres (thriller, mystery, sci-fi, classic) which avoid dragging the reader through the muck.

The book, while interesting, is depressingly focused on the carnal nature of the characters, their cavalier attitudes towards marital commitment.  That is, these characters don't seem to attach much significance to the concept of marriage, regarding the holy concept of physical union as nothing more than physical exercise shared by two people for whom there is a certain level of attraction.  Both main characters - for there are two of them - have numerous encounters with numerous "partners".  One wonders, then, if this is the nature of all relationships in Northern Europe, of if the author is simply using it as a device to attract the modern reader.

For this reader, it creates an artificially amoral chasm between the reader and the characters which cannot be bridged. The characters are neither desirable nor sympathetic.  Even Lisbeth Salander, the genius hacker girl who suffered some horrible assault early in her life and was permanently marked by it, becomes simply an enigma of inexplicable logic and calculated violence. The author goes to great lengths to describe Lisbeth's casual affairs, but fails to explain with any depth the self-justification for her behaviors, except in the most banal way.  perhaps the author feels that the audience doesn't have the intellectual capacity to sustain the discussion. Perhaps the author, like most other contemporary authors, is merely wishing to short-cut the process.

Entirely too much time is spent explaining the bizarre relationship between Mikael and his numerous bed-partners, one of whom is married; and the numerous bed-partners of Lisbeth, most of whom are not even acquaintances.  Taking out all the tedium of these warped ideas of relationship, we are left with a simple detective story which could have been told in far fewer words.


[1] An interesting fact about the author, in case you don't know: Stieg Larsson died in 2004, shortly after delivering the manuscripts for the trilogy of stories, known as the Millennium series, based on these characters.  He wrote the stories after work, for fun.  His real work was journalism.  He was also a revolutionary socialist, and an activist for women's rights (leaning towards the feminism side of things).

It was translated from the original Swedish by Reg Keeland in 2008.  The Swedish movies - all three - were made in 2009. The Hollywood version of the first book came out in 2011. No word yet on a data for the Hollywood versions of the remaining books.  I haven't seen any of the movies yet.

[2] Method: pick out one book on each shelf, randomly flip through the 3rd quarter of the book, find the section where X seduces Y, note that it is quite graphic, sigh, put the book back on the shelf.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Mistress


Suggested by a Flash Fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig.


Death is my mistress, but it is you she wants. That is why I have brought you here, to meet her face to face.

But I must confess that I am jealous. I try to comfort myself with the thought that I am not yet ready, that she has something much better in store for me, that delaying the moment of release will bring the greater pleasure; but the truth is that I long for her now, her gentle caresses, her soothing touch, her satisfying kiss. Yes, I am jealous of you. Because it is you she is calling today, though I am the one in love with her. Yet it would be a mortal sin to deny her, or to deny you the joy you will be experiencing in her embrace. I am her slave, her servant, her lover. She is my mistress; I must obey.

You've never seen her, so you don't know what a frighteningly lovely lady she is. I cannot describe her; it would kill you if I tried. And what would be the pleasure in dying from mere words? It is my hands that long for this blessed work, not my tongue. So I will not kill you with words or thoughts or dreams or nightmares. I will use these fingers, these hands, this strength that my love for her bestows.

You shrink from my touch. You are afraid. That is good. You should be afraid. You don't know her like I do. She is so lovely, so strong, but so very demanding. She does not ask for insignificant baubles, mere trinkets to satisfy a momentary attraction. No; she wants you, she wants all of you. And she will take you whether you are ready or not, taking you apart, cell by cell, until you have become the very dust you walk upon, the very air you breathe, the water you drink. You think that you can escape her with your imaginary gods and angels; you do not realize that she is the only god, the only angel. It is she who grants you life, and then for just a while. She is with you always. From your first breath, she was with you, standing beside your crib. Your first halting steps were taken with your hand in hers. She waited at the bottom of the stairs for you, beneath the swings in the playground, beneath the oak tree you once climbed so proudly, on the other side of the street you so bravely and foolishly crossed without looking. She has always been there for you, waiting patiently, longing for the day when she would take you in her arms and kiss your sweet lips and swallow your memories so that you become one with her. For she is nothing, and everything, all at the same time. She created you, and now she claims you for her own.

I? I am her humble agent, sent to minister to her needs, run her errands, fetch this and that from here and there, bringing her beloved children closer so that she might see them in the prime of their existence and then be joined forever with them. Oh! Is that why you are afraid? Do you fear losing your self in her? Yes, I can see where you might think it's a bit of a drawback to being with her; one tends to lose one's identity. But what does it matter? Once you have become part of her, you are happy forever, and everything else is forgotten. Remember, she will swallow your memories; the good and the bad, she will remember them all for you. You will never have to worry about them again.

You tremble; you are still afraid. Do you fear the pain? There is no need. She will come quickly. I will make sure of it. You see this knife? Sometimes I must use it. But it is not for you; it is for those who are not ready, not pure. They must be cleansed, and that takes time. But it is not for you. She has such great love for you, a great jealous desire. And because she has such love for you, she does not wish to wait; she wants to know you, to know you quickly, to know you intimately, to know you completely.

I see why it is that she loves you so much. You are so young, so beautiful, so strong. I have seen you smiling, playing, laughing, running. Yes, I have been watching you for quite a long time. You didn't see me, hidden in the shadows, behind the trees, inside the parked cars, down the darkened alleys. In your closet. Underneath your bed. Standing over you while you slept. Watching your chest rise. Listening to you breathe. Knowing that she wanted you, but waiting for just the right time, just the right circumstance. When everyone else has gone away, and you are all alone. Like now. Like tonight. You were scared when they left you all alone tonight, weren't you? Yes, it is frightening to be all alone - but you will never have to be frightened again. My mistress takes away fear, and in its place, she offers eternal peace, eternal joy, eternal comfort. She will be with you always.

See? I have put away the knife. I will not use it on you, on your lovely body. Your flesh is too pure, too holy to cut with the knife. Yours was meant to touch, to stroke, to press against with reverence and respect. Especially here on your neck, where your body is joined with your head. Here is where I touch, here is where I stroke. Here is where I press. I can feel the blood pulsing beneath my fingers. I push, ever so gently, and the blood stops. Like this. Do not struggle. Soon, you will be with her. I can see it in your eyes.