Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Publication Date: 2005 in Sweden, 2008 in US


Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden's wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pieced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Together they tap into a vein of unfathomable iniquity and astonishing corruption.

Joshua's take: 4.5/5☆

Why I picked up the book: because everyone and their mother kept telling me I'm missing out on life by not having read this book and since it's been made into what I hear is a fantastic Swedish movie, and I always try to read the original source materiel before I see the adaptation.

There are some books that take your breath away, literally. You become so engrossed in the book that you forget to realize that your quiet drawn out breaths have stopped, as you suddenly gasp, drawing the air around you in, finding surface once again from an endless ocean. Your pulse quickens, pounding and your heart gets palpitations, as you nervously and hungrily turn from page to page, your heart beats in hurried succession, bump-bump-bump, akin to the feeling when a loved one say's, "we need to talk." You stop, breath in, catch your breath and smile as you again realize the truth that so rarely comes these days, "this is why I read." Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is such a book- part of that indelible truth- those rare books that not only live up to expectations, but exceed them as you close the front cover, caress it and and ask, "where have you been my whole life?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first book in the best-selling "Millenium Trilogy" from Swedish author and journalist Steig Larsson, who sadly died of a heart-attack shortly after handing in the manuscripts for what the world now sees as his legacy.

I haven't been this engrossed, this excited reading a book in quite some time. There's such a great mystery here, so much background explored, that you'd feel as if the Vanger family were real and the excesses and corruption of Swedish big business frighteningly close. Each page breathes new life into the story, and Larsson has created two of the most endearing, yet broken central characters that I believe will stand the test of time, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander- two characters at such opposites that they come together in an explosion of righteous justice and ecstasy, but I'll get more into them in a bit.

The book does a really good job at explaining the ins and outs of the Swedish stock-market and financial industry that while the story is concentrated on the Vanger family and their mysteries, is the backbone to the over-arching whole of the story. It all works amazingly well and draws the reader even more, as they feel as if they too are fighting for the sake of the everyday Swedish citizen. I also thought the action scenes were nicely paced, without being unrealistic and the intrigue and fact finding when they delve into the mysteries was wholly intoxicating to read.

If I had to nitpick, one of the flaws of the book is in its "aha" moment, the moment in all crime fiction when the curtain is lifted and we see the inside of its mysteries, or in the case of this book, the identity of the "killer." I do feel that that while the book is a wonderful labyrinth of crime documents and detecting, there was not enough information for the reader to come up with the same conclusion at the end that Mikael and Salander do. You can guess (I guessed correctly). But that's all you're left with, guesses, because in the end, the world of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is as much of a mystery to its inhabitants as it is to the reader. Some may not mind this, but I've read too many crime novels to not feel a bit toyed with and blinded, like at the end of a movie such as My Bloody Valentine (which still makes no sense too me). Still like I said, I'm nitpicking here and no way did that detract from my enjoyment of the overall story.

And talking about Mikael and Lisbeth. If they aren't the ultimate odd-ball, left-field couple ever I don't know what is, and yet it's because they are so not a match, such opposites, that in the end, they do turn out to be the "right" match because they can truly see what's inside the other, highly devastating flaws and all. I love them together and I can not wait to see where they end up. Mikael feels so real because he's Larsson, hard hitting journalist on a mission to bring down corruption and Salander is frighteningly and painfully real in her trauma and neurosis. And that's why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo works so well, because while the world they live in may seem cartoonishly boundless, those two characters feel as if they have a soul, and it's their souls that capture us, the reader. And my god, poor Lisbeth, she is the ultimate crime noir heroine, a modern Valkyrie tied to the wonderful domination that is Swedish crime fiction.

Sadly now that Steig Larsson has passed away, we will never get more of his fantastic and captivating brilliance. But his work stands along in fine company with the works of Henning Mankell, Hakan Nesser, and my favorite Swedish author, John Ajvide Lindqvist (of Let the Right One In fame).

The greatest complement I can give an author is that right after I read this, the first book in a trilogy, I quickly ran out to the bookstore to buy the second book The Girl Who Played with Fire and the only reason I didn't buy the third and final book is because it hasn't been released here yet. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an amazing start in a trilogy where I find myself wondering if I'll ever finish the final book because once that's over there won't be anymore. But then again, that's what's re-reading is for. I for one can not wait to see the movie adaptations now. All three have been released in Sweden, with the film based on this book having been released here stateside in March. I can't wait to see the my minds vision turned to reality on the big screen. Seriously, run don't walk to your nearest book depository and get ready to what essentially amounts to crack on paper.

1 comment:

shop girl said...

I just started reading this today. Won't read your review until I finish.