Friday, August 19, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Coffee Mug

Since the Van Winkle Project is about avoiding not just the news but everything "new," I've tried to not know about product launches and cultural phenomenon. This has included books just appearing on bookstore shelves.

Giving up fantastic books that have appeared on the scene in the last 340-some days of my project would be difficult if it were not for the fact that there are already so many old ones lying around my house that I need to read.

So I finally got to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (first appearance in English 2008).

I'd heard the buzz about this book. I'd heard it might very well keep me up all night.

I misunderstood.

I thought the fans of this "international publishing sensation" meant by "buzz" that everyone was saying "You've got to read this!" and "Get ready for the film version!" I thought  "up all night" had to do with the high suspense factor of this book.

Now I know. They were actually talking about all the coffee.

Literary Beverages and More...
I seriously like coffee, so the coffee motif in TGWTDT was something I could not overlook as I read it. Fact is, if I even smell coffee, I'm like a hound that has a whiff of bacon. But even someone like myself who fires up the coffee maker twice a day was taken aback  by what Larsson was doing.

Now I know what you're going to say: "It's just coffee!" But you haven't seen an addictive substance abused like this before.

It's true that Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises was the literary equivalent of a well stocked bar and wine cellar with it's copious references to characters drinking absinthes, beer, whiskey, champagne, and other libations.

Hemingway pours the booze.

In the liquor department John Cheever was no slouch either. His businessmen, all of them templates for the cable series Madmen, were equipped with a briefcase in one hand a whiskey soda or rye or martini in the other.

John Cheever: Armed for action...
Lastly, you can't read J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey without starting to have your eyes water from all the cigarettes being lit and the smoke rising into the air.

J. D. Salinger: Light me another one!
But I believe the late Steig Larsson outdoes all these literary gentleman. You have not seen coffee like this ever before.

The brazenness of preparing it over an open flame on the stove. The lacivious push of the lever of the pump pot.The sheer quantity swallowed and all those Adams apples dancing with delight.

If you're shy and not comfortable around these matters, do not (I repeat) do not read on.

Kaffe Spelled Backwards is Effak
Steig Larsson has a lot of tricks, surprises, and reversals lying in wait in his clockwork-like plot, but the coffee is right out in the open. The naughtiness, in fact, begins unpologetically on the first page:

Then one gets caught up in the story and hardly notices, but the references come often.

And it's not just our hero Blomkvist. It's our heroine Lisbeth Salander, too.

Together or alone, these 21st century sleuths are drinking coffee. And so are the people they meet.

Larsson's murder mystery and milieu are marinated in coffee.

Sweden Rocks (and ABBA Spelled Backwards is ABBA)
I've said already that I like coffee and I'll admit I like Sweden, too. We were once serial Saabs owners.

And I just remembered...I like Swedish pancakes. And I once went through an IKEA phase when all I could afford in my home was furniture held together with hex screws. And Alfred Nobel (a Swede!) invented dynamite. Then there was ABBA and they definitely did not rock, but we'll table further discussion of that...

The larger mystery Larsson brings to mind is one about Sweden itself. What's going on up north with the coffee? Are the Swedes as a people not getting enough sleep to make it through the day?

Whatever the answer to the riddle, others have noted the TGWTDT coffee phenomenon and written about it in cyberspace. One writer (who must have had an e-Reader making it easy to do a word search) found the word "coffee" 92 times in the novel. By her reckoning "coffee" occurs twice as many times as the word "murder."

It's nice to know that Steig Larsson had his priorities in order.

Coffee Futures
I'm wondering now what the impact of Larsson's so-called Milennium Trilogy has had on the world coffee market. Are people drinking more of the black stuff? Are they seeking out the Swedish roasters (Gevalia is the biggie in the U.S.)? Whenever they feel stressed, for example, feeling as if someone might be sighting them in with a moose rifle and drawing a bead on their cranium, do they shake the awful feeling with a good spoon-stiffening shot of coffee?

I guess my biggest concern is whether the average person who is not really initiated into and innoculated to coffee can withstand such large doses of what Mr. Larsson pours out of his pen.

This is a dark novel, in every sense of the word. To enjoy it, my advice is to stay the hand that would pour the cream or add the spoonful of sugar. You must either take the story as it is or keep your distance. Salander is raped and tortured by a S/M enthusiast. Blomkvist falls into the iron dungeon lair of a serial killer whose crimes are recounted in nauseating detail. This is stern stuff, but I think it's nothing compared to the coffee, oh, the coffee, the multiple cups of coffee...

Scalding. Black. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an excellent mystery, well told with memorable characters. If you haven't read it, proceed at your own risk. If, on the other hand, you think you can handle it, pick up a copy, cue up the suggested soundtrack below, and start to enjoy. - V.W.


1 comment:

  1. Okay I havebeen debating telling you this... But I can't wait until September 11. On July 23 at 3:27 EST Jesus came back. This means that September 11 will never come. If you had not winkled yourself you could have caught the bus outof town. As itisyou are now stuck in eternalnewsless limbo. Sorry dude. - d.m.