October 24, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [review by starlight]

In the evening he went to the cinema to see The Lord of the Rings, which he had never before had time to see. He thought that orcs, unlike human beings, were simple and uncomplicated creatures.
There's nothing like an impending movie release from a great director like Fincher to motivate a reading race in this reviewer. Of course I couldn't not notice this bestseller and its sequels gracing the bookshelves over the past few years, nor could I resist the urge to pick up something popular this decade after years within the scholarly bubble. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo turned out to be the perfect modern period piece, with issues on many levels - from personal, to corporate, to international intrigue.

Its plot has less of a frame structure and more that of an onion. We begin with the personal struggles of two strangers: one Mikael Blomkvist, publisher; and one Lisbeth Salander, private investigator and computer hacker. Blomkvist has been found guilty of libel and sentenced to three months in prison, not to mention the apparent downfall of his legacy, a magazine and his journalistic pride and joy called Millenium. Salander is the survivor of a destructive childhood which has left her with poor social skills to the point of debilitation, and is found to be so incapable of caring for herself that she is put in the care of a legal guardian even in her adulthood. This new guardian is the cause of her new struggle; he's more harmful than anything he could protect Salander from.

Within this story is the murder mystery of the Vanger family. What seems like a locked room mystery is wrapped up in international business intrigue as the possible suspects are all members of a single industrious clan.

This isn't a book for the faint of heart. Originally written in Swedish under a title that can be translated as "Men Who Hate Women", there are many instances of violence against women that Larsson describes unflinchingly and without softening the blow. Salander is a difficult character to relate to in that she beautifully demonstrates the psyche of an abused woman who has no one to turn to. It's very difficult to read how she never even considers reporting her rape to the authorities.

I also have to note that Larsson made some interesting choices in his stories that assumedly were not overturned by his editors. The book, and all of its sequels, were published posthumously, so he likely had very little to do with the work of publishing his story. The pacing can't be described as long-winded, because it is an action-packed page-turner, but I did find an alarming number of pages devoted to minor aspects of the plot. I also felt that the most interesting plot line of the book was that of Harriet's murder, and both the unforeseen twist and the solution to the mystery came a little too early for my taste. We are returned to Blomkvist's personal plight on behalf of Millenium while Salander goes off on her own adventure. I'm interested in seeing where the story goes after this premiere to the series, and whether the odd pacing will be later justified, but if it were up to me, the focus would be on the affairs of the Vangers.

Note: Fincher made me happy by focusing on the Vangers a lot more. I enjoyed the film and felt like it fixed the problem for me. What did you think of the book versus the movie?

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