Friday, May 14, 2010

The Girl With . . .

This isn’t so much a review as it is a cautionary tale about recommending books to your friends and colleges.

Because I don’t live under a rock at the bottom of the ocean, I have been aware of the series of books titled, “The Girl …” followed by a variety of phrases: “…With the Dragon Tattoo,” “…Who Played With Fire,” “…Who Kicked the Badger,” “…Who Swam with Dolphins,” “…Who Played Canasta on Saturday Nights With a Bunch of Her Old College Friends.” Okay, I made some of those up, but I anticipated seeing them in the near future if the speed with which the first three books came out was any indication.

Despite their wild popularity, I avoided them for this reason: they had appeared nearly simultaneously and I must (no, I really, really must) read books in the order that they were written. When I discovered Minette Walters and Meg Gardiner, I had to look on their web pages to find out what order their books were written in so I could start with the first and move forward. When I found myself reading a Val McDermid book out of sequence, I immediately put the book aside, bought and read the previous one and then went back to the one I had started with.

But “The Girl…” series was like the sequels to “The Matrix,” all out at once and stepping over each other. I wasn’t having it. So strong was my fear of getting them out of order that I didn’t even get close enough to them to notice they are clearly marked as volumes 1 to 3, but that’s beside the point. The point is I had no intention of reading them, not until my boss started effusing about them, that is.

My boss is a calm, steady and almost irritatingly unflappable person. He never swears, or shouts at his PC, or pound on the keyboard, and he never raises an eyebrow when I do. He is composed; never angry, never excited, simply in a chronic state of Zen. So when he began to unabashedly gush over this book he was reading, I paid attention, especially when he went on to gush several days in a row. It was marvellous, it gripped him from the first page and just never let go, an incredible read. Praise like this was amazing coming from him (he’d read my book, after all, and had hardly said a thing) so I proposed to buy the book, but only after I confirmed, from two independent sources, which was the first in the series.

I has not gone well.

As is my habit, before settling into the story, I read all the reviews and the “about the author” section, where I learned why, after popping up from obscurity with three obscenely profitable novels, there have been no follow-up books from the author, Stieg Larsson: the poor man is dead.

Seems he handed over the manuscripts to his agent, and then unexpectedly checked into the big slush pile in the sky. As a writer who is looking forward to, not only being published, but basking in the glow of the adulation and money that will surely follow that happy event, news of Mr. Larsson’s inconvenient demise depressed me beyond words.

It was some time before I felt mentally fit enough to tackle the story. At which time I found out it was originally written in Swedish and translated into English. Please don’t think I have anything against translations—I don’t think I lost anything by reading the first three Harry Potter books in American instead of in their original British English (yes, they actually do translate British books into American English)—but I am always vaguely uneasy with the text of a translation, as I can never truly get to grips with the style of the author; was it a good book that was badly translated, or a rubbish book that was brilliantly translated. To my mind, a translated book tells me more about the translator than the author.

Despite these setbacks, I began to read. I am three chapters in and I can sum up my opinion of the book in two words: BORE-RING!

Not only has no one died yet, I have learned more about industrial finance in post Soviet Era Eastern Europe than I even wanted to. And having the information dump stuffed into an animated conversation between two friends drinking on a boat did nothing to make it any more scintillating than it sounds. I cannot imagine this book gripping anyone on the first page unless they are a closet accountant.

I am, however, not giving up; I am convinced the book will get better. All those people raving about it can’t all be wrong and, sooner or later, I hope the story will begin to grip me as it has obviously gripped so many others.

I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.

5 comments:

  1. I rerely enjoy books recommended by others! It all depends how well the 'others ' know and understand me, and that narrows the field!!

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  2. I had this happen so often that I no longer trust other people's judgements. it is after all, a very personal thing. My worst book recommended by somebody was the time traveller's wife. A classic example of something that the majority loved, but I absolutely HATED. :) Hated so badly, i could not physically make myself finish it. I am not saying I am right and the others are wrong. I just think books are like any other art. You love some of it, you hate the rest....Hard to predict or explain.

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  3. The recommendations I get are about 50/50, which isn't bad. What made this one so egregious was the assertion that it gripped you from the get-go, but nothing has happened yet.

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  4. Elizabeth8:05 pm

    Oh dear, I think I must live under that rock...I've never heard of these books and they definately don't sound 'my thing'. I'm with Jinksy on this one ... if someone says, "You'll really like this", I just know it's not for me! I have to 'feel' a book and turn it over in my hands to appreciate it!! x

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  5. Elizabeth: could be a regional thing. I don't know where you are based but they were big in Scandinavia, then they came to Britain last summer and they have been on the best seller lists ever since.

    I just did a Google search on it and came up with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Girl_with_the_Dragon_Tattoo as a good place to look. Seems they are doing or did a movie, as well. It does seems to be European centered, however.

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