I know that many of you are reading Stieg Larsson's "Millenium" series of novels, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. The discussions about these books are endless. Some people are unhappy with the sex. Other people are happy about the sex, except for rape. Some say the characterization of this or that character is poor, or hollow. (That fits Bloomqvist. Maybe it's because Bloomqvist is Larsson?) Some say the police couldn't be that bumbling, or that Neidermann couldn't be that strong and Paulo Roberto wouldn't have shown up out of nowhere the way he did.
No matter how you feel about these or other issues, you probably enjoyed the books. They're great entertainment. I've yet to read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, but I liked the first two--particularly the realistic nature of the family background,* the screwups in the system, and the human greed and manipulation that put Salander where she was--in the position of ward of the state over whom a warped individual had absolute power. (And didn't we enjoy Lisbeth Salander getting her own back?)
But--oh, the product name-dropping! Larsson waved brand names in front of the reader to the point where it disrupted the reading. IKEA, Macintosh, 7-Eleven stores, MSIE, Billy's Pan Pizza--products of all sorts are firmly branded, over and over. In the typical popular novel, a character fires up her unnamed laptop when she needs to do a little hacking. It might be singled out as a Mac if the author is enthusiastic about Macs, but just once. She might pick up frozen pizzas at the minimart, or occasionally at a King Kwik. A motorcycle might be distinguished as a Kawasaki, and a car as a Camry, to help give the reader a picture. But when every market is a 7-Eleven and every snack is a Billy's Pan Pizza, and so many brand names are overemphasized by repetition, it wears on the reader.
At least, it wore on me to the point where I went looking to see whether Billy's Pan Pizza--which Bloomqvist and Salander seemed to live on--was a made-up product. It is real. I posted an image of the packaged product above. The maker is Gunnar Dafgård AB, and they crank out 80,000 rectangular pizzas a day. And then I went back to reading the novel.
Was Larsson paid for these mentions? Unlikely. And it's unlikely that he was such a huge Apple 7-Eleven Billy's fan-boy that he couldn't pass up the opportunity to mention any of his favorites. (Er...is 7-Eleven really that ubiquitous in Sweden? I know there are more than 36,000 7-Elevens around the world, but here in the U.S. I trade at a number of mini-marts that aren't 7-Eleven. Has 7-Eleven totally trampled its competition in Sweden?)
I think it's more likely that Stieg Larson subscribed to the verisimilitude school of fiction writing, which maintains that if you use brand names, your stories will be more believable. But, going back to the 1940s and 1950s, there was a school that felt that using specific product names left one open to some sort of defamation risk, or constituted a kind of unfair endorsement--or free advertising. (There's a tradition in newspapers that frowns on that--more about it in another posting.) Hence, authors would write Yamahonda or Tartus rather than Yamaha or Taurus. Even far-future tales disguised brand names, as Robert A. Heinlein did in The Man Who Sold the Moon, with Moka-Coka instead of Coca-Cola, and 6+ rather than 7UP.
So, was Larsson of the opinion that naming names a better story makes? Or could it be that his journalism background imprinted him with the habit of identifying specific brands?
Did he overdo it, or is it just me? Obviously, it wasn't fatal to sales, but...
Eva Gabrielsson, if you read this, let me know.
* I have a family like that.
Copyright © Michael A. Banks, 2010