Some time ago, I promised a few Facebook friends to review The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, and I’m finally getting around to it.
It took me a long damn time to really get into this book. There is a story within a story within a story, and the outermost layer (a tale about corporate espionage and financial shenanigans) did not intrigue me in the slightest. One hundred pages in, I was still skeptical.
Once one the title character, Lisbeth Salander, really comes into the story, though, I started liking it more. Lisbeth is as unlikely a heroine as ever there was: Tiny, goth, bisexual, probably having Asperger’s Syndrome, in and out of psychological institutions, criminal record… not the usual resume for a protagonist, right? But she is fierce. She is an unstoppable force of nature. She’s adaptive and forward-thinking. Her attention to detail is immaculate.
She has her own set of extremely defined ethics, which don’t necessarily match up with society’s. She is brilliantly gifted with computers, and often regards humans with the cold, precise calculation of a reptile. Her inner monologue is at once nearly emotionless and compelling.
Almost everyone she meets tries to pigeonhole her into some helpless, incapacitated category, assuming she is a cleaning woman instead of a security specialist, assuming she is nearly mentally retarded, instead of brilliant. Most assumptions people form of her couldn’t be farther from the truth. She is petite, but has the strength, agility and skill of a well-trained kickboxer. She has a photographic memory and is brilliant to the point of largely not understanding people who aren’t on the same level as she is.
Larsson, who died tragically immediately after delivering the manuscripts for the first three books, is a skilled storyteller. He has a great ability to weave details into the story, and knows when to withhold certain of them to further the story. In the second book of the series, he takes Lisbeth completely out of the story for what feels like an unjustly long period of time immediately after a dramatic event – but it has the intended effect of making the reader wonder where the hell she is and what became of her.
Blomkvist, the chief protagonist, is at once too good to be true and an everyday guy. I like much about him, but I do not find him compelling in the slightest. He is also extremely principled, and loyal almost to a fault. He makes good decisions. He has sex with a lot of women, who find him non-threatening and easy to boink. He exposes evils in the corporate world.
Yet he kind of leaves me cold.
It may simply be I don’t relate to his profession – writing articles about the dealings and underbellies of the global corporate world. His magazine, Millennium, is his life. I skimmed over a lot of the passages involving this aspect of his life, because it bored me nearly to tears.
The real story, for me, is the murder mystery Blomkvist is hired to solve. He must peel back layers and layers of a wealthy family’s history to determine what happened to a young girl decades ago. I found the outcome of that part of the story to be quite satisfying and worth the time investment of the book.
I also enjoy Larsson’s use of vocabulary – he doesn’t write down to the reader. He often places large, not-often-used words in his passages, which more precisely convey what he wants to express. I think there might have been two or three I had to look up in the Nook’s dictionary, which is unusual for me to have to do. It’s always such a pleasure to find authors who are not afraid of using their intelligence and vocabulary.
What launched me into the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, was Salander; I can take or leave Blomkvist. Salander is more of the central character in Fire, while Blomkvist takes a slight back seat, which suits me just fine. We get to know Salander better in this second book, which gets more directly to the point than the first.
I’m about 100 pages from the end of this one. It’s not a hugely compelling storyline, but I’m enjoying it. It’s going by more quickly than the first, certainly. I’ll probably read the third, just to finish out the series.
The books are definitely not amongst the best I’ve ever read, nor are they Must Reads in my view; however, it’s an interesting journey. The glimpses into Swedish culture and everyday life was a nice diversion for me. The characters are fairly diverse, although a few are a bit cliche. I like that his female characters are not in the least bit helpless; to a woman, they are strong, independent, assertive, intelligent and need no rescue. To me, this bespeaks the respect and admiration Larsson had for women. It’s a nice change from male authors who so often fail to understand the female perspective.
Out of ten stars? I’d give it a 6.5.