Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Stieg Larsson

I have a tendency to be behind the times. If a book series is a huge hit and sells out everywhere and makes all of the top ten lists...chances are I haven't read it yet. By the time I picked up my mass market paperback copy of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I think the third book in the series had already been published. And it wasn't until last week when I finally picked up the hefty volume and decided to dive in.

Here's the thing about this book. It's not a story you can love. First of all, it moves achingly slowly through the first half, and then rushes right to the end in a way that left me feeling a little like I had just nearly drowned and come back to life, gasping for air and totally disoriented. It's also incredibly painful. Every character in this book is wounded in one way or another. It is worth noting that the original Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women, which tells you something about the kind of people who populate Larsson's novel.

However, here's the other thing about this book. It is intense and exciting. It is exhilarating and emotional. Not unlike the mafia, once you're in, you're in for life. The characters are so well written and well developed that they become fully dimensional people. This is one of those books which people talk about as if it were a real story, repeating bits of dialogue as if they had heard sound bytes on the evening news. For all it's faults, and certainly every book has one or two, this novel has become a part of our culture.

The story, as I mentioned, starts out slow. Mikael Blomqvist is a newspaper reporter who is being tried for libel against a very large, very powerful company. There are a ton of facts and pieces of history and some lame, limping outlines of a relationship that Mikael has with his editor. Meanwhile, we meet Lisbeth Salander who is under guardianship due to a history of anti-social behavior and general balking at authority. Her most recent and most lenient guardian has just passed away and she has been awarded to a new court-appointed guardian who seems hell-bent on lording his control over her. Lisbeth works for Milton Security, which appears to hire her out as a freelance private investigator. She has this uncanny ability to uncover every minuscule secret of a person's life without their ever knowing. It is this talent of hers that brings her together with Mikael Blomqvist. Mikael is hired by Henrik Vanger to investigate, and hopefully to solve, the 30 year old disappearance of his niece, Harriet. Mikael and Lisbeth become an intimate team in the effort to unravel the many mysteries of the Vanger family and discover what happened to Harriet.

The mystery is meticulously woven and then uncovered, the characters are dimensional and intelligent, the surprises are many, and the heroics are indeed heroic. Lisbeth Salander is both inspiring and pitiful. Mikael is at once brilliant and doltish. The mystery is predictable, and then completely shocking. As a warning to more sensitive readers, I do have to say that there is foul language, violence, and sex. However, it all felt right. Larsson has me hooked and I'm anxious to see what unfolds in the next book.

Rating: $$$

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