Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book Review: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I did not want to read this book. I heard all the hype. Oodles of ARCs were floating around my office before it was published. I must have had 3 at different points, gave them all away. I read the reviews. I heard the raves from friends. I didn't care. It just really, really didn't appeal to me. Plus, I was pretty sure my book club would eventually pick it. And I was right! I was also pretty sure this was excellent, because while I couldn't get over my initial unwant of the book, I also figured this was one of those books that I really find unappealing, I am forced to read for book club, and then I love (the list is long.)
As usual, I put it off until the last minute. My claim for this behavior is that I like to read the book immediately before the meeting due to my atrocious memory which is partly true, but it's also a rebellion against being forced to do things. Sometimes, like when a book is nearly 700 pages, that can backfire. So when I got an email Monday saying that book club was being postponed a week to accommodate a scheduling conflict, I was relieved as I had just started the book Sunday. I was close to halfway through but I wasn't sure I would finish it in 3 nights of reading before bed. Not to worry, because when I got home from work Monday and picked it up, I didn't put it down for 2 1/2 hours. And then I finished it before I went to sleep! Yep, read the whole thing in 2 days. (Yes, I do read fast, thank you.)
Brief synopsis for those living under a rock as everyone on earth seems to have already read it:
Translated from the Swedish, this is the first book in a trilogy originally titled Men Who Hate Women. Sadly, the author died before the books came out. Lisbeth Salander, maladjusted with a horrible childhood, has found a talent for doing research and investigative work and is working for a security/detecting firm in Stockholm. Mikael Blomkvist is a recently discredited journalist, struggling to figure out where it all went wrong and how he can hang onto his struggling magazine start-up. Blomkvist is contacted by an elderly, wealthy industrialist to write a history of his family, while simultaneously investigating the disappearance of his grand-niece, Harriet Vanger, forty years ago.
As promised the first 80 pages are slow going. I don't know if the information there is pertinent in later books (I believe the author originally wrote them all as I enormous book that was later split into three), but I didn't find them at all difficult or problematic as others have - just a tad dry. I would have advised they be shortened considerably, unless of course as I just said, they come to be important in a subsequent book. Once Blomkvist goes out to Hedeby and starts the Vanger investigation, even with long stretches of exposition, it still moves very quickly and the story is fascinating. Once you hit about page 250, it's very difficult to put down. Occasionally the Swedish bits that aren't translated (names of newspapers, news magazines, regions of Sweden) can be a little confusing, and sometimes it was very obvious to me that this was translated for a British, not an American audience. But those details seemed to not be important as I was able to blow past them without any detriment on my understanding.
Lisbeth is a pretty unique character. A lot of people have been describing her as having Asberger's or mild autism, but I think her defense mechanisms and lack of social skills are a direct result of the obviously great abuse she suffered as a child. It's impressive that she still managed to find her talents, and figure out how to translate that into skills. She was very lucky in her first guardian, who helped her get a job and she seems to be integrating into society well now, albeit with still a few issues. I think her meeting Mikael was a stroke of luck for her socializing and he's a good influence on her life. I respected his work ethic and his personal ethics. I wish he was a better parent. I wasn't thrilled with his daughter figuring out that vital clue as that felt very contrived, unlike all the rest of the way the mystery was uncovered. In fact, I think that if you fix that plotting flaw, you could delete the daughter entirely, and no one would notice (again, I don't know if she becomes more important in books 2-3). But these are very minor quibbles.
The book was riveting, absorbing, the kind of book where you sit down to read, then suddenly realize you're sitting in the dark because it's been hours though it felt like minutes. Fast-paced with a lot of action, intellectual but not snobbish, with a cool locked-door mystery, it's no surprise that this book has such wide readership. I'll bet I eventually succumb and read the later books. Book 3, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest comes out on 5/25 in the U.S. The Swedish movie is out in the U.S. and development is starting on an American version. Here is the Swedish trailer (with subtitles:


Booklover Book Reviews said...

Glad you succumbed eventually and enjoyed the book. The second book is even better because you get to know Salander more... I'm just about to start the final one.

BookQuoter said...

I liked this book too. I quoted this book and the wuotes were a lot to remind myself of Lisbeth as I think she was a unique heroine.

Kristen said...

You liked it better than I did but I'm glad. :-) See you Thursday I hope.

Kay said...

I have read this book i didn't really like it very much, i also watched the film after reading it i found it was very disturbing!