Andrew Brown’s article on Stieg Larsson is interesting. Larsson, author of the posthumously bestselling stories about the sexual abuse of children, the evils of capitalism, and the links between two, describes a Sweden that, in Brown’s phrase, is “entirely dystopian”.
Crime fiction always exaggerates, and Swedish left-wing crime fiction, the tradition to which Larsson belongs, is a genre quite as stylised as Agatha Christie’s. There will always be villainous millionaires and noble women. It is not enough to be a sadistic serial killer: You have to vote conservative as well. But what has changed since the genre was invented in the 1960s by the husband and wife team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö is the overwhelming loss of confidence in the future, and in the state. This does reflect reality.
The Swedish model is not what it was.
I read the first of the Larsson books, but with growing unease. If not for the difficulty I have with putting books aside unfinished, it would have been discarded. I don’t understand their astonishing success.
Christopher Hitchens’ Vanity Fair piece on Larsson comes to mind. I admit I’m enjoying the backlash against Hitchens’ new memoir: this piece by Decca Aitkenhead is pleasingly brutal. He doesn’t write well: he blathers, and if his self-regard weren’t so ridiculous it would be intolerable. On the other hand, he sees things and says things that other writers won’t. And he was right about Larsson:
Sweden used to be notorious, in the late 1960s, as the homeland of the film I Am Curious (Yellow), which went all the way to the Supreme Court when distributed in the United States and gave Sweden a world reputation as a place of smiling nudity and guilt-free sex. What a world of nursery innocence that was, compared with the child slavery and exploitation that are evoked with perhaps slightly too much relish by the crusading Blomkvist.
Yes, “slightly too much relish”. The paperback edition I was reading ends with a few pages from the start of the next volume. Reasoning that these would fall outside the terms of my completion problem, I started in. The first paragraph, as I recall, describes a girl strapped to a table. Enough, I thought.