August 22, 2009
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland
Finished on 8/16/09
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
A sensation across Europe—millions of copies sold.
A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue.
It’s about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden . . . and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.
It’s about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance . . . and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age—and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it—who assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism—and an unexpected connection between themselves.
It’s a contagiously exciting, stunningly intelligent novel about society at its most hidden, and about the intimate lives of a brilliantly realized cast of characters, all of them forced to face the darker aspects of their world and of their own lives.
One of the things I love about book clubs (in addition to all the great food, wine and conversation) is that I am encouraged to read books I may not have otherwise picked up on my own. Such was the case with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When it first came out in hardcover, I barely gave it a second look. But August was the month for our mystery selection and Larsson's thriller won the vote by a wide margin.
I don't read a lot of mysteries, but after thoroughly enjoying Tana French's In the Woods and The Likeness, I was ready to give this Swedish author a try. I picked it up toward the end of July and didn't finish until mid-August. This is quite a chunkster!! The mass market is 644 pages in length. And, this was definitely not the sort to grab me from the first page. I struggled with the first 60 pages or so, trying to sort through the various secondary characters (there's a family tree at the beginning of the book, which helped as I got further into the story), as well as the setting and background information. I know nothing about Sweden, so I had no point of reference when trying to envision a certain location or public figure or historical reference.
I really was ready to skip this book, in spite of the fact that it was for book club (and I was hosting). Thanks to a bunch of comments here, I decided to keep plugging along. Once the main characters and main plot were established, I was quickly sucked into the mystery and couldn't put the book down, anxious to get home from work so I could resume reading. My book is littered with sticky notes, not to mark lyrical passages, but rather key points and hints that might help me solve the murder mystery. I followed all the red herrings, suspecting all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons.
While discussing the book with my book club (every member of which, by the way, liked the book -- those who hadn't finished still planned to keep reading even though the ending was discussed), I said it reminded me a little bit of The Silence of the Lambs. I hadn't even read the back cover of the book until today and discovered the following quote from USA Today:
"Mesmerizing... Imagine the movies of Ingmar Bergman crossed with Thomas Harris's novel The Silence of the Lambs."
Well, there you go.
I don't know if I'd go as far as saying this was a good as Tana French's mysteries, but it was definitely entertaining. So much so that I plan to read The Girl Who Played with Fire. Maybe I won't have such a tough time getting interested in it since it's the second in the trilogy. And don't you just love the title for the third installment -- The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. Yep, that certainly sounds like Lisbeth Salander.
And, yes, there's a movie! You can view the trailer here and a slide show of photos here. There's no release date for the United States, but I've got it saved on Netflix. Hopefully, now that the books are gaining popularity in the U.S., the movie will become available, as well.
Of all the covers I discovered online, this one (from the UK) is my favorite. I love that red comforter!
About the Author
Stieg Larsson, who lived in Sweden, was the editor in chief of the magazine Expo and a leading expert on antidemocratic right-wing extremist and Nazi organizations. He died in 2004, shortly after delivering the manuscript for this and two subsequent novels.
I received a nice comment from Reg Keeland (Larsson's translator for the trilogy). He has translated the two maps of Hedeby Island (which were in the original Swedish edition of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and is happy to send them to any interested reader. Please visit Reg's blog for background information on Larsson's novels. Thanks, Reg! Very nice blog.