11 June, 2009

Book 15 - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or: Millennium: not just a shitty Robbie Williams song

I had one of my wisdom teeth out on Tuesday, so I spent most of the day on Wednesday in bed, reading this book. I should have my teeth removed more often.

Image from My Good Friend Wikipedia. Thanks, Wikipedia!

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2008)
Originally published as Män Som Hatar Kvinnor (2005)

Stieg Larsson
Trans. Reg Keeland

Why this book? Because my Mum said, "Oh, I've heard this book is quite good," and bought it for me. I can't say no to a free book.

What's it all about anyway? Mikael Blomkvist is a fairly talented financial journalist who has just been convicted on 15 counts of libel, landing him in jail for three months. To Blomkvist, this seems like the end of the road - not only of his own career, but of the newspaper Millennium which he part-owns, which will never survive this hit to his credibility.

Then comes a completely unexpected offer. Henrik Vanger wants Blomkvirst to find the truth behind the mystery that has been haunting him for forty years. Who killed his beloved great-niece, Harriet? And, since Harriet's death, who has continued to taunt him by sending him a single, pressed flower, every year on his birthday - exactly as Harriet used to do? Vanger will not only pay Blomkvirst for a year's worth of his time, but he also offers to get the Millennium back on its feet. Blomkvirst reluctantly agrees to investigate Harriet's case, and slowly finds himself being drawn into the bizarre world of the Vangers, who are more a corporate dynasty than they are a family.

As Blomkvirst is pulled deeper into the story behind Harriet's disappearance, he takes on Lisbeth Salander as a research assistant - the girl with the dragon tattoo. Salander is possibly mentally ill, definitely emotionally warped, and entirely incapable of believing that not everyone is out to get her - but she's also a probable genius and an amazingly good private investigator.

Together, Blomkvirst and Salander realise that the Vanders have a lot to hide - and some of them are willing to go to any length to keep it hidden...

The Good and the Bad I started off reading this book expecting it to be just another thriller, but it turned out to be one of the best contemporary mystery books I've read in a very long time. So often I read mysteries where the solution is so obvious that I get frustrated that the detective hasn't figured it out yet - and I also hate it when mysteries are so over-complicated that their answer is just completely unbelievable. Larsson manages a perfect balance, laying down clues that are subtle enough that the reader can see the shape that the answer is going to take without being able to put a finger on the exact solution.

In some ways this book is almost a revenge fantasy - Salander, after being sexually abused, manages to turn the tables on her abuser in a way that might be described as poetic, while Blomkvirst's revenge on the man who set him up to go to prison is so enjoyable you can almost taste it. But in neither case does the revenge seem too far-fetched; in Salander's case, it shows us that while everyone else sees her as a victim she's never really felt that way, and in Blomkvirst's the story needed it to feel properly finished.

There are two main threads running through the book: abuse of women (the Swedish title of the book translates as "Men who hate women") and criticism of big business. Overall, Larsson handles the abuse of women part very well - generally such a topic makes me put down a book, since I just find it so hard to read about, especially when it involves rape and sadism. But the only part of the story which made me slightly uncomfortable was Salander's inability to understand that not all victims can fight back - is Larsson trying to argue that all victims should fight back (which to me sounds a lot like blaming the victim), or is he trying to point out how silly this argument is by putting it in the mouth of a character who doesn't really understand how other people work?

So should I read it or what? Without being a challenging read, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is engaging and really will keep you guessing until the end. I came to love Blomkvirst and Salander dearly, and I can not only tell you that you should read this book, but I'm going to go ahead and tentatively also recommend its sequel The Girl Who Played with Fire, which I haven't actually read yet.

Unrelated link of the day: The 10 worst subjects for a pop song. "Erectile dysfunction" isn't one of them, so I guess this Times writer is a Lily Allen fan.

1 comment:

Sadako said...

Heh, that link looks funny.

And I liked the review--it sounds like a fun, suspenseful type read.