It’s easy to knock any book that becomes one of the most popular in the country because America doesn’t read. Since we would rather do anything but pick up a book, this would mean that any book that appeals to millions of people must be catering to retarded people. So for the same reason I read The Da Vinci Code, I picked up the paperback in the same color as night-time reflectors for joggers and really don’t mind the book that much.
The thing about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn’t that it’s a terrible book, but that it follows the exact same formula as The Da Vinci Code for how to write a book that a massive audience will love. People who thoroughly enjoy reading are quick to say that the writing is terrible and the characters are one-dimensional and baseless, but if it’s so easy to do, then why haven’t you done it?
Because you need to walk an expert balance between looking like a really intelligent book and still being stupid enough to appeal to so many American in Walmart. This is an art in and of itself that is nearly impossible to replicate. The goal is to create something that makes people feel smarter than they are, while being stupid enough for them to not put it down. The movie Crash is a perfect example. Horrible, stupid and simple movie, but they “talk about race,” so stupid people who never talk about race think that it’s brilliant. It isn’t.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has nothing to do with good writing, but instead it’s like a verbal Sudoku puzzle, where the author has tried to craft a story where every chapter ends on a twist or little nugget of intrigue so that you feel like you’re solving the puzzle along with him. This is different from an ordinary murder mystery because those books take things into account like natural dialogue, internal thoughts and rich characters that make most readers feel like they’re too stupid to be reading the book. In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, all those literary elements have been done away with to make people feel like geniuses.
My only qualm with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has nothing to do with how smart, stupid or popular it is. What I hate about it is that they translated the whole thing from Swedish into English, yet they left all the original character names the same. I can’t figure out why they’ve done this. It doesn’t make the book more authentic, worldly or Swedish, it just makes it a pain in the ass to read because you never know whether a noun is a person, place, thing or bird species native to Stockholm.
Mikael Blomkvist, Lisbeth Salander, Henrik Vanger; you really translated all six hundred pages but you couldn’t switch them to Mike Bloom, Lizzie Sales and Hank Winger? They even invented a town in Sweden called Hedestad, but I have no point of reference for a freezing town where it’s dark for six straight months. Change the town to Herdville, put it in Missouri and replace winter with Walmart and we’ll get the idea.
It just comes off as unnecessarily pretentious to keep your umlauts in a book where we’re not going to know the difference either way. It’s not like the book is more authentic because you kept the original Östehrgarten rather than finishing off your Google translation of the entire book by putting the train station near Oscar’s Garden.
But perhaps this is the secret to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s success. It really could all lie in having two dots over the letter Ö. People are drawn to the catchy title and cover, they start flipping through it, they feel like they’re smart and then when they tell their friends about the exciting new book they read, they can add, “It’s actually translated from Swedish. It even has umlauts.”
This all taps into my original problem that it’s impossible to enjoy Swedish films or literature without thinking of the Swedish Chef from The Muppets, but add in a hot chick getting revenge from a sexual assault and a couple umlauts to help America play to the height of its intelligence, then go get ’em, Sweden. Dragon tattoos and all.