Monday, August 3, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson's 2005 novel (English translation 2008) received rave reviews (Amazon ratings four and five stars are 75%) though I'm not entirely sure why. It's a decent enough mystery with one protagonist a tad colorless but the other excessively colorful. In fact Salander tends to throw the novel off - smart only in very limited ways she has computer skills that might as well be presented as magic. Not just is she shown as being able to hack into pretty much any computer anywhere (the technical explanation seems just silly) but one key computer has so much material on it that even the characters remark on how implausible this is. (Should have been a red flag to Larsson.) But she's also smart only in a very narrow way and mostly amoral, helping to murder one person and torture another. I think these were intended to be accepted by readers because the first person was a "gangster" and the second had actually raped Salander twice but this is just revenge and not justice.

This second point may be why so many people give the novel a pass as being seriously literary. Larsson wants us to believe the book is saying something about abuse against women (in fact the Swedish title translates as Men Who Hate Women). He opens each section with an unsourced statistic about sexual abuse. The catch is that the resolution to the mystery is so excessively lurid that it shuts out any possibility of seriousness. I'm not going to reveal the resolution but while it could conceivably happen it's actually quite impossible. Salander's ambiguous status as willing victim (something one of the characters points out) and opponent of the rule of law only makes anything the book might have to say about violence even less reasonable. Another character speculates that Salander might have Asperger's Syndrome which just moves her into psychopathology - the more that she and the book's events are unlikely exceptions, the less the novel can deal with actual social problems. Many readers also claim the book is an attack on the wealthy or social criticism but again it's nothing of the sort. True it's wealthy and powerful who do the Bad Things in the book but Larsson makes no attempt to link what they do to their status - it could just as easily have been poor folk. (And in the real world, generally are.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Record Industry Lies Again

The Wall Street Journal discusses how claims of Michael Jackson's sales figures are waaaay out of line. Their estimates of sales lost to piracy or downloading have always obviously been far too high.