Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

This book came highly recommended by my friend (and book group colleague) Suzy. As I struggled to get into it, she told me it got off to a slow start but then it picked up. By page 300, I was still waiting for it to "pick up."

The book is full of characters--too many named Vanger to be able to keep up with how they are all related (I rediscovered the handy family tree too late)--but the main characters are journalist Mikael Blomkvist and hacker/researcher Lisbeth Salander. As the book opens, Blomkvist has been convicted of libel against financier Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. Salander, who is socially inept and clearly hiding some major secrets from her past, is investigating Blomkvist for an attorney, who, it turns out, works for retired industrialist Henrik Vanger. Vanger invites Blomkvist to his home in a small Swedish town and asks Mikael to investigate the 30-years-past disappearance or murder of his niece Harriet. Eventually, Blomkvist engages Salander to help with his investigation and they uncover evidence of a number of heinous crimes against women and solve the case of Harriet. Just as you think the book should be ending, they take on the task of exposing Wennerstrom and that plot goes for another 70 pages or so.

The two main characters are interesting and there's certainly a lot of plot. However, I found the notion that Blomkvist relatively easily cracked Harriet's case when police and others had been unable to do so rather unbelievable. And the sections about the financial crimes of the evil Hans-Erik Wennerstrom bored me to tears.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been an international bestseller. It comes with a sad authorial story, as well: Larsson died at age 50 of a heart attack, shortly after he delivered the manuscript for this book and two sequels to the publisher. The book is translated from the Swedish and I wonder if that is, in part, a reason for my disaffection from a book that many have loved. I often find translated works have a somewhat flat tone, and I felt that here: Scenes of incredible violence are recounted in nearly emotion-free language. Of course, without reading the original (and my Swedish is .... well, I haven't any Swedish), there's no way of knowing if that's the author's style or an artifact of translation.

Favorite passage:
Sadly, I didn't mark a single page (and there are 465 of them). Hope someone else will chime in with a contradictory view.

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