Sunday, 13 September 2015

Larsson exhumed

"The Girl in the Spider's Web", David Lagercrantz

There's a theory out there that says you should never go back, and trying to find something that all evidence suggests is gone is always going to be a fool's errand. Most of the time I apply this sort of thinking to revisiting authors from my formative years, but the same point could be made about publishers going back to deceased authors and having a bash at resurrecting them. I can see why they do it, I can see why people are keen on reading them, and I'm also aware it often ends being a little unsatisfactory. Even when it's a talented author revising a mostly finished manuscript there's something lacking in the resulting book.

So how do I feel about David Lagercrantz picking up Stieg Larsson's mantle? I loved the original trilogy, warts and all, and there was a certain excitement about the arrival of the posthumous fourth. The largely positive reviews in the Guardian and Irish Times helped, and realistically, this was always going to be a book I was going to buy.

And you know what? It seems genuinely pretty good. Lagercrantz captures Larsson's voice effectively, the universe is familiar, and the familiar characters are there, like long lost old friends coming back, welcoming in you in despite all the years that have passed. There are some other promising points, The Girl in the Spider's Web isn't a sprawling vast tome stretching the bounds of what can be printed, instead it's a slimmer more focused volume, which raises the prospect of a tighter narrative.  

So does it really work?

It's been a train and bedtime companion for the last few days, and happy long morning saw it finished today, and while I want to write that I'm a touch ambivalent about the book I'm conscious this is selling it undeservedly short. There's the familiar Larsson sprawling plotline ranging across media, politics, and Swedish society, there are the linkages to the deep Salander family storyline, and a topical information age conspiracy to deal with. All of this feels like familiar Larsson territory, but here's where somehow the conciseness of The Girl in the Spider's Web ends up falling a little short. 

The novel is relatively short, but attempts the sort of wide ranging plot lines we had in the first three books, and ultimately there's not the real estate there to do them justice. I often think big doorstep volumes, much like the latter Larssons threatened to be, would benefit most from a strenuous edit, but intriguingly this too feels like it should be a fundamentally better sorted book. The end feels syncopated, and while most hanging threads are tied off, there's a level to which you feel that had Larsson had his hands on this they would have been dealt with in a touch more detail.

But let's not carp. The Girl in the Spider's Web is still ultimately a well paced engaging thriller that ticks all the boxes when you're looking a Scandinavian crime thriller. We can't bring Stieg Larsson back, but if you, like me, have a hankering to know how the Millennium sage evolves, seeing subsequent volumes like this will give us something honestly fine to think about.

I'm going to paraphrase the Guardian here, but if you didn't like the previous Larsson books this won't change your mind, but if you did you'll probably enjoy this. It's not high literature, and nor is it quite on the level of first encountering The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it kept me engaged and warranted it's space in my backpack though my daily commute. It's flawed, but I'm pleased it exists, and I'm pretty sure I really want to see the series continue.

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