January 21, 2008


Levi Stahl

After reading a couple of strong reviews, I ordered Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from the UK. I read it this week and was completely disappointed. It's poorly written, poorly constructed, and, I hate to say, poorly imagined. I suppose the translation could be at fault, but the prose is clunky and awkward; exposition rests uncomfortably next to failed attempts to limn character, and the dialogue never for a second sounds like life. The characters range from unmemorable to unlikely, and the locked room mystery has so many loopholes that from the start it's obvious that the solution is going to be uninteresting. It was so bad that after 350 pages I started skimming, something I almost never do. It was a real letdown. But many, many people seem to disagree with me about this one, so maybe you'll enjoy it.

James Wood's book, though, I'm looking forward to unreservedly.

Frank Anthony Polito

As the moderator of the Official MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH Film Boycott, I find your negative comments to be a bit startling... Especially as posted on what you consider a "Literary Blog."

As a soon-to-be published novelist first inspired by the work of Michael Chabon, I don't see how you can honestly think I'm being an "idiot fan" for not wanting to witness the desecration of my all-time favorite book by a Hollywood director out to make a buck!

(And in response to your other comment, I thought Daniel Craig was totally HOT as James Bond!)

Clearly Rawson Marshall Thurber has no regard for the written word. Otherwise he would never have had the audacity to even CONSIDER making changes to Michael Chabon's work.


I'm sorry, Frank, but I will always find a boycott of a film one hasn't actually seen to be presumptively idiotic. And anyone who has ever spent a second actually working on a film knows changes must always be made (including Chabon himself). Ask Michael Ondaatje how he feels about The English Patient. Your stance, however well intended, strikes me as terribly naive.


Mark, have a great reading!
And my regards to Mr Chandra. I met him some months ago in Italy and we had a pleasant conversation.

Michael Larson

I recently wrote a review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that you can find at openbookblog.com. I can't believe the Times recommended it.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


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