Friday, August 20, 2010
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
Musings: Clearly The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a very popular book right now, and the novel certainly packs in the twists and turns of a good detective mystery. The mystery itself, full of sensational violence and twisted psychopaths, is fairly standard, but what makes the book stand out is its complex protagonists, Blomkvist and Salander (the girl with the dragon tattoo). In fact, I might argue they are a bit too complex and involved for the story itself, but I suppose that kind of detail is necessary to sustain a longer series. Blomkvist is presented as a likable guy out to do the right thing by refusing to compromise his morals. Apparently he's also irresistible to women (who could resist a middle-aged journalist?!), as he sleeps with nearly all the women he meets. But don't worry, he's certainly not perfect--his relationship with his "occasional lover" Erika Berger broke up his marriage (and continues despite Berger's present marriage) and he rarely sees his child.
The English title, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, puts the emphasis on Salander, which is somewhat of a misdirection considering the content of the book. She's a unique figure, and is the more interesting of the two "detectives" with her tattoos, piercings, and refusal to engage in "normal" social behavior. However, she's not central to the plot, and her dragon tattoo (and her other tattoos) aren't even explained! Nonetheless, Blomkvist and Salander are an interesting odd-ball pairing, and I imagine the development of their relationship will guide the second book.
As most people know, the original title of the book, translated from Swedish, is Men Who Hate Women, and it's probably more apt than the English title (though I can understand why publishers would want to change it). The violence perpetuated against women is discussed and mentioned in various forms throughout the novel. I did appreciate the awareness given to these kinds of events, though the most prominent examples in the novel are so sensationalized and grotesque that the violence begins to seem far-fetched and veer more toward the realm of "torture porn" rather than really make a statement about the pervasiveness of violence against women. There's also little understanding of why the violence occurs, in particular, against women.
Although I did mostly enjoy the book, the novel felt more like an extremely long episode of Law and Order: SVU than a groundbreaking new work. The story drags in places, and the dramatic resolution to Harriet's mystery is somewhat cliche. I wasn't attached enough to the characters to have to know what happens to them next, but I wouldn't mind reading the sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, the next time I have a lot of time to relax and read.