Friday, 13 June 2014

Bookshelf: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Denise Mina

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE was my favourite instalment of the Millennium trilogy when I first read the series in 2010. I loved the way Stieg Larsson eschewed the Agatha Christie-style whodunit that he used to great effect in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, instead crafting an even more effective "wrong (wo)man" thriller, with Lisbeth Salander in hiding after being suspected of murdering her twisted guardian Nils Bjurman and a young couple investigating the trafficking and prostitution of Eastern European women. I was relatively disappointed with the film adaptation -- good though it was, I felt it took too many liberties with the source material and ultimately turned the best book into the weakest of the three films -- and was curious to see how Denise Mina would tackle the adaptation process with her comic book version.

First, it's worth pointing out that, whereas Mina's adaptation of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTO was split into two instalments and the marketing prior to release suggested that the same process would be used for its sequel, this 288-page book actually contains the full story of the original novel. This is probably just as well, because Mina's two DRAGON TATTOO adaptation was split rather awkwardly in two, with the first book not so much ending on a cliffhanger as stopping mid-sentence. FIRE, of course, ends on a cliffhanger of its own, setting up the events of the third instalment, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS' NEST.

While streamlining some elements of the narrative, the comic book adaptation remains much closer to the plot of the novel than the film, and reading it in this form, I was struck by just how convoluted and multi-stranded the narrative is. In that respect, Mina does an excellent job of maintaining a sense of coherence in her writing. The plot is unmistakably Larsson's, but the dialogue exchanges are peppered with all manner of examples of the sort of dry humour that makes it clear the writer of GARNETHILL and the Paddy Meehan books is behind them -- in stark contrast to Larsson, whose own writing had an incredibly po-faced quality. A good example comes when the police are searching Salander and Miriam Wu's apartment, and one, the chauvinistic Faste, discovers a stash of sex toys, to his great delight. Seeing him proudly waving a vibrator in the air, one of his colleagues advises him to put it down, since "not everyone reaches for the antiseptic wipes just after sex."

The artwork is more problematic. Three artists -- Andrea Mutti, Antonio Fuso and Leonardo Manco -- contributed to the comic, each with his own individual style. I imagine it was felt that drawing a book of this length would constitute too much work for a single artist, but unfortunately the lack of consistency leads to certain problems. The cast of characters is vast, with many of the players middle-aged men, and it becomes difficult to tell them apart at the best of times -- particularly when their appearance can change from one page to the next. This is particularly true of Blomkvist and the "giant" Niedermann, who are hard to distinguish at the best of times (both are drawn as tall, blonde and granite-jawed, and both wear a black leather jacket). The main detective, Bublanski, is more distinctive thanks to his Jewish skullcap, but the fact that Fuso draws him completely baldheaded while Mutti gives him a full head of hair is a rather egregious continuity lapse.

While none of the art is bad per se, I find Mutti's work rather flat and prefer the sense of volume the other two artists give their work. I also continue to be rather bemused by the rugged, musclebound Blomkvist, though that may stem from my familiarity with the less imposing Michael Nyqvist from the films. A bigger problem is just how damn incomprehensible some of the panels are, resulting in quite a few instances where the only reason I had any idea what was going on was because I remembered the event in question from the original novel. There's also one instance about halfway through the book where Salander is shown to react with shock to something she sees on a TV screen in a shop window. I know, because I've read the novel and seen the film, that what she's reacting to is her own face, released to the public after the police launch a manhunt for her. Only, due to what appears to be a compositing error, the screen appears blank on the page apart from a ticker at the bottom reading "Share drop 4.6% of value within two hours of market..."

Ultimately, as was the case with the comic book version of DRAGON TATTOO, I'm not sure that there was a burning need to adapt the novel into this form. The script is superior to that of the film, but the graphic novel format just doesn't seem all that suited to what is essentially a story in which various groups of people sit around talking about events that took place in the past. I enjoyed it for the most part, and if time is of the essence, it's certainly a quicker way of digesting the story than either watching the film or reading the original novel, but you're ultimately left feeling that the story isn't particularly suited to the medium in which it's presented.

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