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Hysteria as 'Hornet's Nest' hits US shelves

Peter Vinthagen Simpson · 24 May 2010, 14:15

Published: 24 May 2010 14:15 GMT+02:00

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"It's an authentic phenomenon," the LA Times wrote on Monday going on to describe the Millennium novels at the heart of "a great age of the Nordic noir".

US audiences have had to wait longer than most for their version of the final instalment of the Millennium trilogy and in the meantime a veritable hysteria has been built up around the books, which have sold a whopping 40 million worldwide to date.

The New York Times has devoted a wealth of column inches on Monday to a thorough analysis of the Stieg Larsson story complete with real-life intrigue that has followed his death and the bitter fight over the rights to his legacy.

The newspaper compares the scale of the hype to no less than Harry Potter and the Victorian-era British master storyteller Charles Dickens.

"Americans haven’t been so eager for a book since the early 1840s, when they thronged the docks in New York, hailing incoming ships for news of Little Nell in Charles Dickens’s Old Curiosity Shop," Charles McGrath, a former editor of the Book Review, writes.

The British version came out sometime ago and many impatient Americans have simply ordered their copy from there, but Larsson's US publisher Knodf expects high demand and has already printed 750,000 copies of the book which pits the hacker-heroine Lisbeth Salander against the might of the Swedish state apparatus.

The most obvious typographical change between the UK and US additions is the shift in the apostrophe in the title to singularize the hornet.

In the third book Larsson finally reveals the grim truth of Lisbeth Salander's insalubrious life story and plots the delicate battle of wits between the unlikely heroine and her powerful opponents.

The Salander character continues to capture the imagination of US reviewers, following the rousing eulogies afforded to the US release of the filmatization of the first of the novels, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in March.

"I can't think of an American actress who could play Lisbeth... Someone able to play hard as nails and emotionally unavailable. Make her a Swede, and simply cast Noomi Rapace," The Chicago Sun Times star critic Roger Ebert wrote referring to the Swedish star.

Story continues below…

But according to the latest reports filtering out from Hollywood, Carey Mulligan of An Education fame is set to fill the role when the English language versions of the films start filming in the autumn.

The New York Times portrait summons up almost every Swedish literary notable that has made any impression States-side -- from August Strindberg to Pippi Longstocking, Ingmar Bergman to, well, Stieg Larsson -- and claims that the latter has introduced readers to a new Sweden.

"A Sweden that is vastly different from the bleak, repressed, guilt-ridden images we see in Ingmar Bergman movies and from the design-loving Socialist paradise we imagine whenever we visit Ikea. It’s a country that turns out to be a lot like our own," McGrath writes.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

19:38 May 24, 2010 by zircon
I like that: "A Sweden that is vastly different from the bleak, repressed, guilt- ridden images we see in Ingmar Bergman movies."
20:54 May 24, 2010 by Z-man
I hope this book isn't anything like The GIrl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was so awfully translated I couldn't get past the first chapter.
23:05 May 24, 2010 by mikmak
Which one is it? This is also from NYT:

"Indeed the Sweden in these books is not the shiny, clean utopia where everyone drives Volvos, shops at Ikea and listens to Abba, but a noirish place where the dark emotions of Bergman and Strindberg reign, along with a malign brand of politics and law. "
00:07 May 25, 2010 by zircon
Strindberg is not dark. And then again, it's not the kind of present to give German Chancellor Angela Merkel either at this moment...
08:16 May 25, 2010 by wabasha
I read all three. they drink a lot of kaffe in those books.
08:56 May 25, 2010 by Skallywag

Book 3 is as badly translated as Book 1 and Book 2 is as bad as both.

A wonderful line I came across in Book 3 was "She REPAIRED to the Sofa to watch TV"

The Professional Freelance translator who has translated all three books (Reg Kinney) really has done a shoddy translation on all three books. I just goggled him and he lives in the States and really he needs to brush up on 1. his English skills and 2 his understanding of Swedish expressions. He has translated many of them literally and they make no sense when translated that way. They needed to be adapted to work in English

I work in the Translation business here in Sweden and am a manager of many translators and I know the translation business very well.

I have a mission on all three books, as I have so highlighted so many mistakes in all three books. I could not help it , as really I felt the poor translation work needs to be addressed and fixed. I plan to send these comments to the Publisher, as really the Publisher in my opinion has sanctioned these translations and has sold me a very good read but the read is tinted with 2nd rate translation work.

Now on saying the above once you do get past the Poor English the books are brilliant and are a page turner and I love them. It is just a pity that all three books are let down by poor translation work.
09:55 May 25, 2010 by Rick Methven
" It's a country that turns out to be a lot like our own," McGrath writes."

I hope Sweden will NEVER be a lot like the USA
09:56 May 25, 2010 by Toab
umm...actually what is wrong with "She REPAIRED to the sofa.." this is fine, repaired can mean "to go (to)" as in this sentence!
10:09 May 25, 2010 by WelshSwede
As it should be retired too. I did notice a lot of odd transaltions but just ignored it and carried on. I was hooked, read all three in a month and wish there were more. Really hope they film them here in Sweden!
11:49 May 25, 2010 by cogito
@Skallywag: "The Professional Freelance translator who has translated all three books (Reg Kinney) really has done a shoddy translation on all three books"

This Reg guy is not the perp. He does not exist.

Christopher MacLehose, the Millennium editor in England, messed it up. He needlessly prettified the translation. (Girl With Dragon Tattoo for Men Who Hate Women, the original title)

The real translator, Steven T. Murray, said that he was so upset by MacLehose's tinkering that he asked that his name be removed and a pseudonym be used instead. (see NYtimes article, page 5)
19:50 May 25, 2010 by Skallywag

Really did not know that about "Reg not being the perp" and big thanks for the info. I will most def. look into the NYtimes article.
09:45 May 26, 2010 by Z-man

You wrote: "Now on saying the above once you do get past the Poor English the books are brilliant and are a page turner and I love them. It is just a pity that all three books are let down by poor translation work."

As a professional writer myself, all I can say is your forbearance puts me to shame. I admire your being able to look past the mess and get into the story. I couldn't get past the first chapter of the book because I didn't want to have to edit it--whether in my mind in order to understand what the heck I was reading, or marking the book with red ink and getting on a mission just like you. :-)

I would think the translator's problem is more English expressions than Swedish ones, because he was trying to push Swedish-isms over onto English. So many places I was screaming in my mind, "You can't put it that way in English! No native English speaker would ever say that!" Thus my comments to @cogito below.

Interesting that you work in the translation biz! I would like to get into it too, and make it officially my line of work, after having done it unofficially for so many years, working various jobs capitalizing on my "free" native English skills obtained "på köpet." My work has after all been published anywhere from on corporate websites to instruction manuals to employee magazines. You got any leads for me? :-)


When I looked up the trnaslator's name, I suspected it was a nom de guerre, I still think the other alleged names behind it, "Steven T. Murray" and "Christopher MacLehose," are misleading too, unless these guys grew up with Swedish as their mother tongue. The translations are obviously done by a Swede or Swedes, making typical Swenglish mistakes, albeit on a higher, "academic" level.

I am currently involved with the translation of another Swedish bestseller, and I appreciate that a book has to be able to stand on its own as an English book and simply has to make sense in English. Readers shouldn't have to be well-versed in Swedish or Swenglish to decode it. I could only "get" what was being said because I live in Sweden.
10:31 May 26, 2010 by Skallywag

" I could only "get" what was being said because I live in Sweden. "

Exactly and that's how I managed to get through all three books, as at times I was pulling my hair out in frustration and annoying the hell out of my wife, saying aggghhhh you cannot translate like that. She just got used to it and resigned herself to saying after book 1 "give it a rest now and keep your comments to yourself I am trying to enjoy the Swedish versions (she was reading the Original Swedish versions at the same time as I was reading the English versions)

Anyway if you want to get in touch give me an email address and I can mail you. I do not want to put myself out there over Forums as I like to remain anonymous. But if you want to talk, I would be glad too, So add in a temp email address (this all sounds so Steig Like:->>) in your next comment and I can mail you on that address.
12:20 May 26, 2010 by Swedeman
I read the review in San Fran chonicle, there too they complain about the translation. Sad. Read the whole articles on Stieg and the review in NYT, interesting. Not often something from sweden get that kind of space.
12:52 May 26, 2010 by cogito
@ Z-man and Skallywag

Yes, the editing is as amateurish as the editing.

Among the thousand examples of Swinglish, the one that drove me outdoors screaming was:

"He plugged at the university."

It's a testimony to Larsson's greatness, I think, that he transcends the botched job by his English publisher.
13:37 May 26, 2010 by Z-man

There is a word for people like you and me: jobbskadad :-D

This is my temp email addr: zmanlocal@hotmail.se

Look forward to hearing from you!


Apparently Larsson's greatness for storytelling may have transcended his own writing abilities too. Rumor has it his defacto wife was the one who made some sense out of his horribly-disorganized writing to produce the 3 books.

re. "He plugged at the university."

All I can say is, AAAAAAaaaaaaaaargh!!!!
14:56 May 26, 2010 by Skallywag

Yep I remember that one but my fav is from Book one

Where Blomkvist and another guy (can't remember the characters name) are having a conversation about the phoney company that is being subsidised and this company are siphoning the money and the character leans over and he says to Blomkvist. I think it is the last line in Chapter 1.

"We are not talking cat sh!t here"

In Swedish is "Vi pratar inte katt skit"

In Swedish it works (I still think it is a silly expression and maybe a Swedish person reading this can explain why the expression is used the way it is) but it should have been adapted to "We are not talking small change here" Blomkvist.

I mean commmmme onnnn professional translator and publisher (if you are listening). Will an ordinary English reader get it when some says "we are not talking cat sh!t". I think not but when one lives here one does.

Have a good days guys (Z-Man and Cogito) it has been good to read your opinions.
11:21 May 27, 2010 by cogito
@Sklallywag and Z-man

It's been good to read your opinions too.

Look at not only the mis-translations, but also the sentence structure.

I'm beginning to think that perhaps it was someone whose native tongue is not English who did the translation and the editing.
08:05 June 7, 2010 by rufus.t.firefly
I've been told that these books are worth reading, so I will attempt to do so.

As Skallywag points out, translation is a tricky business. No doubt your Swedish is exemplary, as is, I'm sure, your mastery of Swedish idiom. On the other hand, your English is nearly unreadable. You have vastly overestimated your ability. You clearly lack not only finesse, but even a basic structural understanding of my mother tongue. I'd get a migraine if I had to read two pages of your English.

You are not the right person for the job.
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