Aug 27, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

This book was really quite good. I agree almost exactly with the NYT review of it, which is a bit scary because that never happens...maybe writing my own reviews (I've got a new one up, by the way) has made me more attentive. It has its flaws, but one can only assume that the editorial process was somewhat stunted by it being a) a translation, and b) released after the death of its author.

However. This is a best-seller. The waiting list for the sequel at the library is prohibitive. People love it, they buy it, they fling money in its direction. And it's not trash, either. So I'd like to use it as a bit of an example of that thing I always say about how all the writing "rules" should come with the caveat "unless it works, and/or you do it really, really well."

This best-seller is guilty of breaking all of the following rules that authors in writing groups spend countless hours warning each other about:
  • Not starting the story right away. The main plot doesn't present itself until 15% of the way into the book, and even then there is a fairly large plot detour before it gets fully underway.
  • Not finishing the story quickly after the climax.
  • Taking place in a foreign country, where people have foreign names and worry about foreign issues. Can an American audience identify with characters named Holger and Dirch? Do they care about social problems and corruption in Sweden?
  • Being too long. This book is pretty long. I'm not sure how long, but definitely pretty long. Publishers don't like long books right now because of the cost of paper, you know.
  • Having a major part of the intrigue be related to coded Bible verses.
  • Having long passages of not immediately relevant history and back-story.
  • Using multiple perspectives. It's all third person, but several different characters' points of view are utilized.
  • Being about a writer, and then presenting a situation where the writer becomes famous and adored. I've actually got a whole post somewhere in the back of my mind about how funny it is that writers always become the most obviously passionate about their subject when they're able to work in their latent impossible dreams of total success, but for now, suffice to say that this is horribly cliché.
All this, and I still sped through it and immediately started on the sequel, as did many others from the looks of it. This is not an excuse to break the rules, and I'm not saying it couldn't have been much improved by hammering out these issues, but the story and writing were good enough to carry it through despite any objectionable elements. Food for thought.

PS - Amusingly, awesome group blog The Book Book just had a post on this as well. It's somewhat more useful than mine for things like, er, plot. Read it here!


Hayley said...

Huh. I've only made it about 50 pages in. So you're saying I should stick with it?

Erin said...

Yeah, give it a bit further than that...I'm not sure how many pages (I was reading it on Kindle), but it was definitely a quarter of the way through before it's comfortably settled into the main plot.

But there were definitely things that annoyed me, and I'm sure you'll notice them too...doing a lot of editing really makes it hard to pleasure-read, eh?