Friday, January 8, 2010

Too much Joe...

Do you know the phrase 'jumping the shark'? It's a few years old now, but it means the point when a book, TV show or a film features a scene so ludicrous that the reader/viewer can no longer take it seriously. The phrase derives from one of the last episodes of Happy Days, where the Fonz (whom I saw in the crowd at an English football match a few weeks ago, but I digress) is water skiing, in a leather jacket, and literally jumps over a shark. Apparently this was too much for erstwhile viewers of Happy Days, who, glancing over the fact that Richie Cunningham was still apparently going to school when he was 32, turned off in their droves.

Well, reading the final book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, I had a sort of jumping the shark moment. I've enjoyed the series immensely, though maybe not as much as some.  The great plots and original heroine have just about about outweighed some of the other flaws - the crushingly dull first 100 pages of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the almost anal inclusion of every cough and spit of each character's lives (a shopping list for God's sake!) and the bewildering fact that middle-aged journalist Larsson has women seem ever willing to doff their clothes and jump into bed with middle-aged journalist Blomkvist at any opportunity, which always brings to mind the words of advice I was given a while back by another writer, about never trying to fulfil your fantasies in print.

However, the jarring bit where Stieg strapped on a leather jacket and skis is pretty inconsequential, and nothing to do with plot. It occurs when a man comes to the house of Erica Berger, Blomkvist's sometimes squeeze, to fit an alarm because she senses danger. He takes it upon himself to brew up a coffee on her machine. Unbelievable. We English have a set code for offering workmen and women hot drinks. You offer them a cup of tea, they say yes, usually ask for five sugars  to sweeten it (the incidence of diabetes among builders in the UK must be astronomically high) and you make it. If a builder ever walked into my kitchen and started brewing up they'd be hell to pay.

I jest. Well, a bit. But the amount of coffee consumed in the Millennium trilogy is mind-boggling. Is anyone in Sweden able to sleep? I find it even more baffling because work has taken me to Sweden two or three times a year for the past decade. In that time I've never had a decent cup of coffee. Yet, the way Blomkvist and his mates sling it back, you'd think it was honeyed nectar that guaranteed eternal youth.

There is a fabulous English film called Withnail and I, which I urge you to hunt down and watch, about two struggling actors living on the poverty line, doing what they can to enliven their sad existence. It being British, most of the enlivening comes from alcohol (one of the characters is so cold and desperate he drinks cigarette lighter fuel.) It is much beloved by students and struggling artists, many of whom have had their own cigarette lighter fuel moments. A game has been devised whereby people viewing the film have to take a drink each time one of the characters does. The result being that all but the most hardy have collapsed into stupor before the bittersweet ending.

When the film version of Dragon Tattoo is released, and on the basis it is faithful to the novel's caffeine consumption,  I propose a similar game with the humble bean. Each time a character has a coffee then so do you. I guarantee hot sweats and palpitations by the time Blomkvist beds his first woman.


Dan - Friday


  1. Dan - The sentence that will jump out at some readers is the one in which you state that you have never had a decent cup of coffee in Sweden. The diehard Gevalia fans who have to special order their coffee will not be pleased.

    I have not had any Gevalia coffee nor have I been to Sweden but one of my nephews lives in Gavle, home to Gevalia which is the Latin name for Gavle. (I looked up the bit about the Latin). My nephew lives in Gavle and my brother wasn't a fan of the coffee.

    Gevalia lovers would be even less pleased if they realized that Kraft owns Gevalia and Maxwell House. Is the taste of the coffee the issue or is it the way the Swedes brew it?

  2. Hi beth.

    I must add that all my Swedish coffee has been drunk in hotels or restaurants, and it's not just Sweden where they often serve lousy coffee in those places. Maybe if I was invited to a Swedish home and was given a homebrewed coffee (or, in Larsson-esque style, went in and brewed my own) I might think differently. The coffee lacks the strength of flavour I seek, but then I'm an espresso rather than a filter coffee man.

    Reading the Larsson books I was just staggered by the amount of coffee everyone drinks when my experience of Sweden is that they drink no more, no less than elsewhere. I've read a few other Swedish authors, notably the great Henning Mankell, and I don't remember coffee playing such a starring role. Maybe Stieg was a coffee devotee?

    Must say, I've never had Gevalia coffee and now you've piqued my interest. I use Illy coffee; grind the beans and then brew it straight away. Or at least I usually do but my machine is on the blink so I had to drag out the old stove top maker. Still makes a decent cup.


  3. Dan - If you grind your coffee beans, you are much more of an aficionado than I. As long as it is a dark roast, it works for me.

    I am not an espresso fan but the cappuccino in Italy was fantastic. My daughters were embarrassed when I wanted to order it after breakfast. Do do so I was labeling myself an American tourist, as if the cameras, the guidebooks, and the inability to speak anything but English didn't trumpet that fact.

    I took some courses at Trinity College in Dublin a million years ago. Drinkable coffee was an unknown commodity but the tea was in a category of its own. There was at least as much caffeine in the tea as could be found in any coffee. I haven't had tea as good since.


  4. Beth. That might well be Barry tea that you drank in Ireland - it's good stuff.

    Italy - now that's a place where they take their coffee seriously. I once ordered a cappuccino after lunch and I was looked at like I was barking mad. Apparently Italians have their milky coffees before lunch and take it without afterwards because they believe milk plays havoc with the digestive system.