Mar 16, 2015

A Few Thoughts on the New "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Book Sequel

Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo (2011)
There aren't too many franchises that I am committed to. By commitment, I mean read all the literature (even the comic book adaptations), see all of the movies and needlessly track every single production note. I don't obsess over much, which makes Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy an interesting one for me. While I wouldn't consider myself a fan of crime and murder mystery literature, there was something always alluring to me about Lisbeth Salander. She was an enigmatic character who was strong and could hack into computers while holding a complicated relationship with a journalist. The last that we have heard from her was in 2011 with director David Fincher's somewhat maligned feature adaptation of the first novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Since, actress Rooney Mara has come out and said the next movie is unlikely. However, today marks the release of what should be perceived as "exciting" news. There's a new book on its way. If this doesn't puzzle you, let me state another fact: Larsson died in 2004.
It isn't entirely unlikely that there would be more stories for Salander to go on. After all, the three main stories; "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest"; were all released posthumously from 2005-2009. However, it has been a considerable time since there was a new story. This would be the first since the Swedish movies adaptations directed by Niels Orpev took world cinema by storm. With a reported manuscript that is supposedly 70% done, writer David Lagercrantz is taking up the mantle to complete the story. This is following a nasty feud over ownership of Larsson's property upon his death, which was recently resolved.
Not much is known about the story, but it does raise a lot of questions about the future of the series. The books are renowned best sellers and Salander is a pop culture icon of sorts. Would it be the necessary tool to refuel interest in the character after a five year absence? It is likely that people will read it when it comes out in August regardless of whose name is actually attached. However, this is a double-edged sword for so many reasons. The most notable being why it needs to come out at all. Considering that Lee Harper is also breaking silence with a new book release this year, it seems like an odd time to be revisiting old favorites in the literature landscape.
As stated, I am a huge fan of the series and consider the first to be a personal favorite. One of the most notable things about the story is that despite being deep with details about journalism, geography and politics, it manages to read in a very accessible manner. None of the text gets bogged down by any pretentious clinical language that is too droll. It is about the characters, whose playful interactions keep things interesting. As Salander's character develops in the sequels, we get a deeper understanding of who she is. There's sensationalized moments, but most of all, there's a sense that the later editions are missing something, specifically "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest." It feels incomplete.
I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing. Considering Larsson's death, it is a miracle that it still comes through as an interesting read, even if it is the weakest of the three. Still, there's a sense that it could have used some editing and more focus. Passages kept going on and the ending was sudden. I am not saying that the Millennium Trilogy is diminishing returns, but there is definitely something missing with the absence of Larsson's expertise. For what it's worth, he was able to write complicated passages in simple language. He entertained as well as informed. He was profound in the way he let moments play out. Sure, he was also dark and sadistic at times, but he succeeded in producing something wholly satisfying in making a character unlike any other jump from the text and into your immediate consciousness.
Which brings me to Lagercrantz. There's some assurance that like Larsson, he is a Swedish journalist. It also helps that he is supposedly finishing the novel from Larsson's notes. However, what is to be really achieved in the 30% missing? It is a substantial enough amount that it could even be unnoticeable, provided that he knows how to ape his style. Still, in the general sense of writing, each author brings their own voice to a work. Even if it's just a sentence, there's something that feels off by having multiple hands in a singular pot, especially with one as far removed from initial conception as this. I don't doubt that Lagercrantz is a good writer despite being unaware of his work. I simply think that this is far too much of a challenge to overcome. Maybe if Larsson had lived, we would be getting diminishing returns instead of appraising the sequels as compelling entries. It will never be known. However, it is perplexing to see because as stated, Larsson's gift is in brisk narrative. It is a gift few have and thus is already an uphill battle for the new writer.
Will I read it? Most likely yes. I am committed to the Millennium Trilogy through and through. I recognize faults, but I find so much fascinating in how the story unravels. Even the third story, as problematic as it is, has a lot going for it. My concern is one from reasoning that things will be too good to be true and that regardless of what those notes say, it will be edited and sold more for profit than care of the franchise that has developed. After all, it's cheaper than making The Girl who Played with Fire. Even then, there's optimism that this may restore faith in the franchise and get more films made despite Fincher's take being considered a box office failure. Nonetheless, I want to state that as a fan, I am not wanting to get my hopes up despite every urge to. It is always a loss to not have an original author complete their work. However, I am not entirely mad at Lagercrantz and the thankless task either. If he believes in the story and it's not just a cash grab, who knows what's in store. Could it expand Salander's conflicting relationship with his family? Could journalist Mikael Blomqvist go on more interesting journeys? We'll just have to wait and see.

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