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TGwtDT: Chapter 2

December 24, 2011

Chapter Two

Change of POV!

My problem with Larsson’s writing comes to the fore pretty much at once. ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a bit of literary wisdom given to writers in terms of character development for their creations. In a nutshell, it means that when you’re describing a scene, a place, a character or an event to your audience, stay away from laying all the details out in black-and-white. Instead, paint a picture with your words— evoke images with your details and allow the reader to make inferences, draw their own conclusions and bring the story to life. If it’s done correctly, then your audience will remember your story fondly, long after it’s been set on the bookshelf. Done incorrectly, and, well…

We know all about the character before they’re allowed to say one word; before we have any reason to care to know about them.

Dragan Armansky is the first character we are introduced to in such a manner. Dragan’s a real Sensible Sam kind of character, with some pretty impressive accomplishments to his name: in fifteen years, he advances from junior associate of the (fictional) Milton Security to CEO and COO. Under his leadership, the company is soon respected internationally for being one of the best in the business for providing security solutions for their customers. Sales increase from forty million SEK to two billion.

We even learn what he looks like! “His father was an Armenian Jew from Belorussia. His mother was a Bosnian Muslim of Greek extraction.”

Kinda!

“His passport confirmed he was a Swedish citizen, and his passport photograph showed a squarish face, a strong jaw, five o’clock shadow, and graying temples. He was often referred to as ‘the Arab,’ although he did not have a drop of Arab blood.”

Well…

“He looked a little like the stereotypical local boss in an American gangster movie…”

Milton Security handles four kinds of employment: security consultations, countermeasures, personal protection and private investigations. The former three are stable, safe sources of revenue; it is the latter which keeps Dragan up at night. Let’s face it, being a P.I. sounds pretty awesome— at least, in theory. The reality, I expect, would be like working for TMZ, only with average people instead of celebrities for much less pay. But regular people or no, it also has the potential to drag a lot of skeletons out of the closet, which means scandal and bad publicity for Armansky. More often than not, Dragan refuses the really troublesome jobs to save M.S. the trouble. But when he does get a complicated case, he gives it to…

Lisbeth Salander. Our eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo.

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. The prologue lacked some punch, and the first chapter was a little (a lot) stuffy, but now Larsson can finally stop holding our hands and we can actually see some plot progression, some interaction between the characters, no more telling, finally some sho-

“In Armansky’s eyes, Salander was beyond doubt the most able investigator he had met in all his years in the business. During the four years she had worked for him she had never once fumbled a job or turned in a single report.”

…k. You’re just giving us some basic traits that you can expound on them later, in a natural and auth-

“On the contrary, her reports were in a class by themselves. Armansky was convinced that she possessed a unique gift. Anybody could find out credit information or run a check with police records. But Salander had imagination, and she always came back with something different from what he expected. How she did it, he had never understood. Sometimes he thought that her ability to gather information was sheer magic. She knew the bureaucratic archives inside out. Above all, she had the ability to get under the skin of the person she was investigating. If there was any dirt to be dug up, she would home in on it like a cruise missile.”

…She’s a hacker. She’s the best she is at what she does. Now, how abou-

“Somehow she always had this gift.”

Can we strictly call it characterization if it’s strictly our narrator/author listing traits by rote?

Ugh. That aside, Dragan and Lisbeth are set up as foils to each other. Dragan looks…like an Arab, but Lisbeth has this skinny punk rocker chick vibe going on (lol at Lisbeth being described as anorexic-but-not-really.) Lisbeth possesses an uncanny competence with a job that Dragan would rather avoid altogether. Dragan is content to take things at face value— at least at first— while Lisbeth’s work deals with ferreting out the details others would rather forget. They could have a pretty entertaining “Odd Couple” dynamic working here, if the author wished to explore it. I don’t really blame him, though. It’s an old concept. ‘One’s a tiger. The other’s a monkey. Together, they fight crime.’

Salander ends up working for Armansky in the first place thanks to a reference from a lawyer friend— Holger Palmgren. Let’s assume he’s important because we’re given his full name. At first, Salander is employed as a semi-secretary, and a shitty one at that. She’s cold, unresponsive to basic social interaction from her co-workers and— wait for it— a drop-out! Stay in school, kids.

When Dragan calls her in to give her the boot, though, Salander speaks up just fine. In fact, she starts trash-talking. The investigators at M.S. are worthless and Dragon-tat could outdo them with her hands tied behind her back. Dragan sez, ‘Prove it!’ Salander comes back with proof that the client beats his wife and snorts coke. Well damn.

Suitably impressed, Dragan takes her under his wing, teaching her what he knows, giving her computer courses, etc. It’s a nice gesture, but ultimately an empty one, as Lisbeth is already a computer wiz and a natural at private investigation despite being twenty-four and lacking basic social skills.

In spite of her standoffishness and his own misgivings, Dragan finds himself inexplicably drawn to Salander. “But the attraction, Armansky thought, was that Salander was a foreign creature to him. He might just as well have fallen in love with a painting of a nymph or a Greek amphora. Salander represented a life that was not real for him, that fascinated him because he could not share it— and in any case she forbade him from sharing it.” Genuinely interesting, though I doubt it will be picked up again. Sounds like Dragan’s having a mid-life crisis. Salander is semi-attracted to her boss as well, but draws the line precisely because he is her boss, never mind his age (thirty years her junior) or his wife and kids. She doesn’t need a father or a lover, but the two do agree to be friends.

Back to the present.

M.S. has a new client, attorney Birch Frode, who has requested information on the only other character of note so far: Mikael Blomkvist. With this development we can see the beginnings of the tenuous link between the two characters, which will undoubtedly pull them together. It also provides Larsson with the opportunity to drop even more backstory into play; but I’ll be more forgiving this go-around because at least it comes from Salander instead of our omniscient narrator.

Salander wrote a report on Blomkvist that is 193 pages long…then, she offers to streamline her findings for Frode. Again, I’ll give you the short and sweet version:

  • Blomkvist has a family, went to school, served briefly in the military, became a journalist and helped create the Millenium.
  • He is neither rich nor poor, but the trial combined with his jail time will likely clean him out.
  • He has written two books and pays special attention to corporate corruption, and had built up a reputation for his reliability up until the ‘strom trial. Salander takes the time to comment personally on this (which surprises Dragan, because Salander is usually a robot who shows no emotion in her reports) and states her belief that Blomkvist may have been set up, because his track record shows no history of writing a story that he cannot back up. Perhaps he was threatened or received false information?

Frode cuts her off. Is there any chance that she could sniff out any dishonesty about the Wennerstrom trial, given the opportunity? Armansky, understandably, gets antsy. The case has been closed, Wennerstrom is flush with lawyers and cash, and Salander possesses no subtlety. It’s a recipe for trouble and Armansky knows it.

“In the depths of his Croatian— or possibly Bosnian or Armenian— heart he had never been able to shed the conviction that Salander’s life was heading for disaster. She seemed the perfect victim for anyone who wished her ill, and he dreaded the morning he would be awakened by the news that someone had done her harm.”

Are Croatians more prone to intuition than Bosnians or Armenians? Casual racism, or a European expression? You decide.

In the end, Dragan reluctantly agrees but warns Frode that it’ll get expensive. Frode shrugs it off. 99 problems but a kronor ain’t one. He inquires if Blomkvist has any secrets worth knowing and Salander informs him that he’s quite the ladies’ man— the only constant woman in his life is one Erika Berger, editor-in-chief of Milennium and a married woman.

Mikael, you dog, you.

Notes in the Margin

-This should have been our first chapter. Salander’s report could have given us a more natural lens to bring the Wennerstrom/Blomkvist trial into focus, rather than through flashback after flashback. Our main character (or one of them, at least) is introduced, and we learn more about her through her work.

-Pippi Longstocking, who Dragan sometimes compares to Salander, is another creation of Astrid Lindgren.

-Dragan: “I like you a lot. But it’s not a physical thing.

Salander: “That’s good. Because it’ll never happen.”

I was reminded of Borat’s line: http://youtu.be/LK7LyxgrWS4

-You don’t call someone anorexic unless they’re actually anorexic.

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