Saturday, April 7, 2012

Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

This year at my family's Christmas gift swap (we're so large it's easier, and much more fun, to do a White Elephant style gift swap so I never know what I'll end up with) I made off with the first two books in The Millennium trilogy and after I saw the Swedish version of the film I started the first book. I had been warned that it had a slow start thankfully or I might not have continued through with it but it's time for the review itself to talk about that.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson


Summary: Mikael Blomkvist is an investigative reporter facing jail time for libel after an article of his goes awry. While he is trying to avoid media coverage, mostly to avoid destroying the magazine he co-owns (The Millennium), he is contacted by the elderly Henrik Vanger with an interesting job proposition, to figure out once and for all what happened to his niece who went missing 60 years ago. Before Vanger hired him however he hired the talented and fiercely anti-social Lisabeth Salander, a hacker, to investigate Blomkvist and who took an interest in him. Blomkvist realizes that he needs help himself on the case and tracks her down as they start to unravel the Vanger family’s twist past.

The Good: Larson has managed to create a very intriguing mystery that’s hard to predict yet makes sense in hindsight. He juggles a good sized cast easily, it may be a bit difficult to remember who is related to who but you won’t confuse any of the characters. The pacing, once the story gets going, works well considering the story is spread out over a year (although I can easily see why the Swedish movie shortened and shifted around a few events) and it's nice to see that Blomkvist did not immediately solve the case but that it did take a lot of extra effort and time to bring the facts to light. The ending was also a bit different from the ending of the movie however, while it was interesting to see such a different tone and track taken, I do wonder why Larsson wrote that ending.   

The Bad: Since Stieg Larsson is dead it may be crass to say this but the man apparently could not pace a story to save his life. It takes two hundred pages for the story to get going and lingers on for another hundred pages after the main mystery is resolved. The entire book is nearly 600 pages long and I’m curious to know if he did die before the book was fully edited and if it was published as is, that could explain a lot. I have nothing against long books but the problem here is that most of these extra pages is devoted to giving in-depth backgrounds to one scene characters. Some of these characters might be important in later books, especially since Larsson was planning up to ten books in the series, but wouldn’t it make more sense to do that in a later book? Also, I don’t know if this is a translation issue or if it’s from the original Swedish, but the portrayal of Lisabeth varied wildly during different parts of the book. Sometimes she seemed like an awkward, neuro-typical, young twenty something and other times she seemed genuinely crazy. This happened both when the point of view focused on her and when it was from Blomkvist’s POV and instead of making her a more rounded character she came off as very uneven instead. Finally, I know there is some controversy about this term around the internet, but Blomkvist comes off as a self-insert, Gary Stu at times. There are times when he’s an interesting character and feels well fleshed out and then there are moments, with how noble he is in his journalism and how every women he meets wants to have sex with him (which is apparently very good at), which feel like this is how Larsson wanted to be himself. Blomkvist does not feel like a complete Gary Stu but those traits were just so blatant that they annoyed me to no end.  

In the end this book made me appreciate the (Swedish) film even more for how it took a book with some rather large problems and smoothed them out very well. Currently I don't have any plans to see the American version of the film, I heard that some of the rape scenes were very graphic and wanted to watch it either through Netflix or on DVD (aka, where I would be able to simply fast forward through them) but I expect I will sometime in the next few months.

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