Writing In Public celebrates the art and intelligence of essays, online and in print.

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A world that was both familiar and strange

A world that was both familiar and strange

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Paul Wilson explores the life and landscapes of Stieg Larsson @ The Walrus. I was late coming to Stieg Larsson and his wildly popular Millennium Trilogy. Last spring, when I started reading the first volume, some 20 million people had already beaten me to it. By August, when I finished the third, that figure had almost doubled. Numbers that big — phenomenal even beside such recent literary juggernauts as Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code — almost always result from word of mouth. But the buzz over Larsson’s books began even before they were published.It started shortly after he submitted the manuscripts of all three novels to his Swedish publisher, Norstedts, in April 2004. Word spread quickly, and when the Frankfurt Book Fair rolled around that October publishers from all over the world were clamouring for a look. Translations were commissioned shortly after the first book appeared in Stockholm in early 2005, under the title Men Who Hate Women, and from there the groundswell grew, country by country. By the time it reached North America in 2008, as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, not even a bad review in the New York Times could stop it.

I’m a fan of crime and espionage fiction, but the Millennium books were different. There was something mysterious about how, despite their obvious flaws, they drew you relentlessly into a world that was both familiar and strange. Instead of seeing that world from the perspective of a police force, detective agency, or newsroom, you saw it through a small magazine with big ambitions. Like his main character, Mikael Blomkvist, Larsson had been a journalist and a magazine editor, and I wondered how much of his own life had gone into his books? Or was I simply fascinated with Larsson’s Sweden, a country I’d always dismissed as being pretty much like Canada, only with more blondes, fitter grandmothers, and a better sense of design? His books made me want to know more.

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