There’s a real surprise – well quite a few, actually – when we learn what Lisbeth Salandar has been up to since the events of the first book in Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium trilogy, which gave her the financial resources to do pretty much whatever she wanted, in the opening pages the second in the series, ‘The girl who played with fire‘ (2009). It’s off the wall twists like this – she’s had breast implants; I don’t think I’m giving too much away here, given half the world has already read it – that make this such an intriguing series, and there are plenty of twists at play when the action gets going, and it really does. (Not that it wasn’t interesting before that anyway). You thought ‘The girl with the dragon tattoo’ was exciting? – then take a deep breath and plunge in, but be prepared to suffer.
Apart from the obvious – great characters, fiendish narrative skill, neat dialogue, a sense of place – I’ve been trying to work out quite why this sequence of books has been so spectacularly successful, just on a word of mouth basis. It would be churlish of me to complain in Harry Hill mode – what are the chances of that happening? – about seemingly random meetings and sightings in bars and coffee bars and to query the survival prospects of certain characters here or the solving of Fermat’s last theorem in a moment of respite from prolonged duress, because life is too short and what we have here is a classic example of a book that deserves suspension of such disbelief.
Why does it grip so? I think it’s a couple of generations’ equivalent of James Bond, over and above the obvious techno stuff (“It was an antique P.C. With Windows 95 and a 280 MB hard drive. It took an eternity to open the Excel document …”) and the interesting and varied sex lives (though never prurient) of the main protagonists. Here is board member Harriet Vanger’s – you remember, from the first book, found in Australia – take on the magazine:
The problems you face in Millennium are small and manageable. Naturally the company wants to operate at a profit – that’s a given. But you all have another goal – you want to achieve something. […] Exactly what that is remains a bit unclear to me. The objective is quite hazy. You aren’t a political party or a special interest group. You have no loyalties to consider except your own. But you pinpoint flaws in society and you don’t mind entering into battles with public figures. Often you want to change things and make a real difference. You all pretend to be cynics and nihilists, but it’s your own morality that steers the magazine, and several times I’ve noticed that it’s quite a special sort of morality. I don’t know what to call it , except to say that Millennium has a soul.
I think we baby boomers can pretty much identify with that. And then there’s the question of loose cannon and – lest we forget, victim – Lisbeth Salandar’s morality, as described by Palmgren, her old mentor:
He gave up. She was up to some mischief that she did not want to talk about. He was quite sure he would have severe reservations, but he trusted her enough still to know that whatever she was up to might be dubious in the eyes of the law, but not a crime against God’s laws. Unlike most people who knew her , Palmgren was sure that Salander was a genuinely moral person. The problem was that her notion of morality did not always coincide with that of the justice system.
How we relish her revenges. And we’d all like to think we share another of her qualities:
For some reason it did not seem at all odd that he was a good friend of Salandar’s. He was a cocky devil. Lisbeth liked cocky devils, just as she detested pompous jerks. There was only a subtle difference, but Paolo Roberto belonged to the former category.
In passing, there’s also a decent bit of police procedural in evidence here, along with the serious consideration of social issues like the human rights of victims. And still lots of questions left hanging for the final volume. Did I say how entertaining it was? Great stuff.
On a completely different tack, had an interesting hour on Monday evening being walked and talked around MK’s Central Library – in the company of 60 or so others, I hasten to add – by the artists Boyd & Evans, the husband and wife who live locally and were responsible for the much-loved mural that has graced the library since the mid-80s:
They weren’t actually addressing that picture but rather 7 others of their works that have recently been hung in the library (to create a bit of space in their studio, they said). It was a fascinating experience; you could see so much more after they’d described the genesis of the pictures – there is, for example, among other things, a space shuttle landing top left in the large pencil drawing, hanging upstairs above the L&M shelves in the fiction, called something like ‘The shooting of the pope’ which I’d looked at many times before and not ‘got’ – it’s a signs of the worrying times piece with more than one smoking gun. Never mind where the images came from – frozen low definition video newsreel images. And so on. They described their – vogue phrase – ‘artistic practise’ in some detail (surrealists, working from photos) and launched a staunch defence of the Milton Keynes Gallery, currently the focus of readers’ letters in the local press from ‘disgusted of Milton Keynes’ who want more representational work on the walls.
The problem with MK Gallery is that, a lot of the time, there’s too much ‘artistic practise’ in evidence but not a lot of substance actually on display. As it happens a new show opened this week, one of the more interesting ones, though I’m not sure the sculptures and ceramics will pass my wife’s test of whether, in her opinion, a class of primary school children could have done better. Although a fair bit of it passed me by, I shall be visiting this Andrew Lord retrospective again. I particularly liked the ceramic ‘Arch spanning river’ which had a certain evocative something, albeit with only a thin strip of river under the arch. I liked the colourful ‘Portrait vases’, sitting on specific shining books (not that you can tell what they are, save from the titles of the pieces – or indeed, see any faces). I like the way he deploys blobs of gold leaf on these and the lovely pale blue of the ‘Eighteen Mexican Pieces’ (or wonky pots, you could say). The arch piece mentioned earlier is a prime example of what the handout calls the ‘use of memory as a sculptural tool‘. Words fail, really, but as I say, I shall go again and hope, next time around, it’s the right time for the video of the Britannia Coconutters dancing through Bacup last Easter, the inspiration for another piece in the show.