Saturday, June 26, 2010

Millennium and its discontents

The one big problem with the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson is that the bad guys never, ever have a real chance of winning.

Like Greek tragedies in reverse, things go steadily downhill for the antagonists as destiny and fate, or Salander and Kalle Bloody Blomkvist decree their ultimate annihilation and/or demise. The inevitability of an Evildoers Apocalypse makes you just canter along merrily for the ride, your heartbeat and pulse rate remain at balmy normality as it all plays out and the Gurrl mit der Dragon Tattoo walks into the sunset with her stolen billions. After a point, patience does get stretched.

Very rarely in a novel in the thriller genre do you encounter such has-been, past-the-expiry-date, doofus-brained villains, all with two left feet and un-opposable thumbs. One of the many perpetrators of atrocities is actually a geriatric in a wheel-chair who is almost perpetually connected to a dialysis machine, even as he plans to shower fire and brimstone on the equally gormless Salander and Blomkvist.

To sustain an interest in nearly 2000 pages of adventure you must at least have the occasional possibility of mortality for the main characters, should you want to root for them. Here, even a bullet in the head brings no grief, and is little more than an excuse for 200 odd pages of hospital procedural. It is understood that the protagonists are not going to be bumped off (not until the very end of it all, if at all) but at least there should be the fear of such a possibility and the dread that comes with it. Even a kindersroman like Harry Potter makes us, on occasion, feel that something very, very bad is round the corner, and the anticipation of what might be raises goose pimples, as it should. Mikael Bastard Blomkvist and Lisbeth Insouciant Salander and their clueless peripherals go their merry ways like a fairy/doll house tea party in Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Forest.

The utter safety that this narrative provides is probably the reason for the books’ success. Larsson jettisons drive and anticipation for wish-fulfilment and vicarious voyeurism. If you choose to identify with the good guys, it is promised that only good things will happen to you, and you can string along until ultimately good things do happen. Larsson satisfies many forbidden urges- breaking down all barriers of the privacy of others, while keeping your own secure, procuring vast sums of money by dubious means but never getting caught (also experiencing the pleasure of spending vast sums of  said monies on pleasuring the self), and of course, screwing all and sundry on two legs. How many of the main characters does Bonking Blomkvist make his conquests? Five, or six, by my last count. Pity he doesn’t swing both ways, or Larsson could have made him sleep with most of the bad guys too.

Salander’s actions, on the other hand, are a result of childhood abuse, but most of that is in the past. Her present is all about the exploitation of the system she finds herself in without responsibility or consequence. Even rape is an opportunity or strategy to get even. Victimhood for her is like some other person, another body that is constructed in the present and put to use for personal gain. Talents like cyber-hacking and passive-surveillance allow her to do pretty much anything, almost like a denizen of Krypton in Metropolis. There is never failure. While reading you are carried forward in the sugar-rush of procedures and methodology of police work, the judiciary, journalism, sting operations and publishing, of the life and mores of millennial Sweden, while all is accomplished as smoothly as a hot knife through butter.

Spare a thought for the poor sods at Tehelka. They must be gnashing their teeth in horror while reading these books. They know a thing or two about consequences.