A 24-year-old computer hacker sporting an assortment of tattoos and body piercings and afflicted with Asperger Syndrome or something of the like has been under state guardianship in her native Sweden since she was thirteen. She supports herself by doing deep background investigations for Dragan Armansky, who, in turn, worries the anorexic-looking Lisbeth Salander is "the perfect victim for anyone who wished her ill." Salander may look fourteen and stubbornly shun social norms, but she possesses the inner strength of a determined survivor. She sees more than her word processor page in black and white and despises the users and abusers of this world. She won't hesitate to exact her own unique brand of retribution against small-potatoes bullies, sick predators, and corrupt magnates alike.
Financial journalist Carl Mikael Blomkvist has just been convicted of libeling a financier and is facing a fine and three months in jail. Blomkvist, after a Salander-completed background check, is summoned to a meeting with semi-retired industrialist Henrik Vanger whose far-flung but shrinking corporate empire is wholly family owned. Vanger has brooded for 36 years about the fate of his great niece, Harriet. Blomkvist is expected to live for a year on the island where many Vanger family members still reside and where Harriet was last seen. Under the cover story that he is writing a family history, Blomkvist is to investigate which family member might have done away with the teenager.
So, the stage is set. The reader easily guesses early that somehow Blomkvist and Salander will pool their talents to probe the Vanger mystery. However,Swede Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is no humdrum, formulaic whodunit. It is fascinating and very difficult to put down. Nor is it without some really suspenseful and chillingly ugly scenes....
The issue most saturating The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that of shocking sexual violence primarily against women but not excluding men. Salander and Blomkvist both confront prima facie evidence of such crimes. Larsson's other major constituent elements are corporate malfeasance that threatens complete collapse of stock markets and anarchistic distrust of officialdom to the point of endorsing (at least, almost) vigilantism. He also deals with racism as he spins a complex web from strands of real and imagined history concerning mid-twentieth century Vanger affiliations with Sweden's fascist groups.
But Larsson's carefully calibrated tale is more than a grisly, cynical world view of his country and the modern world at large. At its core, it is an fascinating character study of a young woman who easily masters computer code but for whom human interaction is almost always more trouble than it is worth, of an investigative reporter who chooses a path of less resistance than Salander but whose humanity reaches out to many including her, and of peripheral characters -- such as Armansky -- who need more of their story told.
Fortunately, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in English translation will be followed by two more in the Millennium series: The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Air Castle that Blew Up. I can't wait. Larsson also made a 200-page start on a fourth book, but sadly he succumbed to a heart attack in 2004 and his father decided the unfinished work will remain unpublished.
I recommend this international bestseller to all who eagerly sift new books for challenging intellectual crime thrillers, who luxuriate in immersing themselves in the ambience of a compellingly created world and memorable characters, who soak up financial and investigative minutiae as well as computer hacking tidbits, and who want to share Larsson's crusade against violence and racism.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a masterwork of fine craftsmanhip. When I reached the final page I was disappointed that there was no more to read. I did not want the story to end. The characters are too intriguing for this to be the end. Apparently this was the first novel in a trilogy by the brillant writer, Stieg Larsson, who unfortunately died in 2004: the book contains a tribute to him and his career. I cannot wait to read the sequels scheduled for release in the USA in 2009.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an international best seller and is set in Sweden. It takes a little effort to get accustomed to all the Swedish names and places but then the story moves with lightening speed. There are two key plots happening simultaneously. In one, a Swedish financial investigative journalist publishes a libelous attack about a powerful industrialist and is sentenced to jail, fined a ruinous sum, and has his career torn to shreds. Another industrialist, Vanger, hires the journalist to investigate the 36 year old disappearnace of his then 14 year old grand niece. There has been no trace of her in all these years and she is assumed dead. Yet, every year on his birthday, he receives a mysterious gift of a pressed flower, mimicking a gift his missing grandniece used to give him when she lived there. Vanger, an old man, is tormented by the flower gifts, and wants one more chance to find out what happened to her and who killed her. What the journalist uncovers about the Vanger family's hitherto unknown secrets and connections to the Nazis, will have you hanging on the edge of your seat.
The book is titled after yet another character, Lisabeth Salander, a societal outcast and social ward of the State, uncivilized without any desire to obey societal norms, and replete with piercings, tattoos, and a goth/biker appearance. In short, at first glance a totally undesirable and unsympathetic person. She is a researcher with a corporate security firm and ends up working with the journalist. In truth, she is a survivor of abuse in all forms with low self esteem, and an inablity to trust. She is a genius with Asberger's Syndrome, a form of autism, who sees patterns in things ordinary mortals miss and uses incredible computer hacking skills to accomplish her goals. She is fascinating: ruthless and tough to a fault, yet internally vulnerable, struggling to comprehend her own feelings. She has an appeal that draws you to her, rooting for her, and wanting to understand her. Lisabeth is unforgettable, unlike most characters that populate mystery thrillers. There is such depth here.
The book is a thriller on many levels: The story about the Vanger family itself, the journalist's crusade to redeem his reputation, Lisabeth's vendettas and development, and of course, the truth about what actually happened to the missing Vanger heiresss. This is a superb novel and impossible to put down. Utterly stunning. Probably the year's best book. SUMMER 2009: SEE MY REVIEW OF THE SEQUEL, "THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE", ANOTHER OUTSTANDING BOOK.
I admit it, I am out-of-step with current, popular taste, because I seem to be the one man on earth who thinks that the international bestseller THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a lousy book. I'm not even sure why I finished reading it. Sonny Mehta, the book's U.S. publisher at Knopf, calls it "deeply ambitious, insightful and fiercely smart," and I am here to tell you it is none of those things.
The book is two-thirds exposition... we're talking hundreds and hundreds of pages of numbingly dull backstory that brackets the one third in the middle where something actually happens. Unfortunately, what happens isn't ambitious, insightful, fiercely smart or even mildly interesting. And it's all written with cliche-ridden prose that is so bad that it's distracting. (that may be the fault of the translator, Reg Keeland, and not the original, Swedish author, Stieg Larsson). Here are some examples:
"I think you are grasping at straws going to Hedestad."
"Ricky, that story is dead as a doornail."
"You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see that these events were somehow related. There had to be a skeleton in one of their cupboards."
These are just three examples out of hundreds. And there are also a lot of clumsy descriptions, like this one:
"She looked like an ageing vampire -- still strikingly beautiful but venomous as a snake."
So is she a vampire or a snake? Are vampires venomous? And there are even clunkier sentences, like this one:
"Harald Vanger had gone back to his cave by the time Blomkvist came out. When he turned the corner, he found someone quite else sitting on the porch of the cottage."
Someone quite else?? Either Larsson was a very bad writer or the translator's grasp of English isn't so good. It certainly doesn't strike me as "fiercely smart."
The title of the book is misleading, too, since it refers to the hero's sidekick and not the actual central character, who is a one-dimensionally valiant reporter for a financial magazine who is irresistible to women. If the women that he meets don't bed him immediately and fall madly in love with him, it's clear that they desperately want to. Virtually all the men in the tale are sadists and all the women in the story have been sexually brutalized, willingly or unwillingly (it's mentioned in an aside that the reporter and his business partner/lover dabbled in S&M and bondage for fun years ago). Maybe that's why the original title of the book in Sweden was MEN WHO HATE WOMEN. I'm not kidding, that was the title.
It all adds up to a book that's heavy on dull exposition, glorifies rape & torture while pretending to disapprove, and is written in unbearably flat, cliche-ridden prose. I can't find a single positive thing to say about the book except that the galley was well-bound and is no longer taking up space on my bookshelf.
on July 12, 2009
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Vintage)
I really don't understand the critical orgasms over this book. Amazon pushed it on me for weeks, and the minute I stepped into Borders an employee ran over and recommended it. Thinking, this really better be the best book I've ever read, I took it up to the checkstand, where the register guy asked: "Did one of our employees recommend this?" Um, yeah. And Amazon, too. So of course I asked him why.
"Oh," he replied, "we've been told to recommend it this week." That should have tipped me off right there: recommendations handed down by management. Pfft. I hesitate to suggest a conspiracy, but - did someone end up with too many of these in a warehouse in Duluth? Did Oprah make a bet with someone that she could pull strings and make the most boring book in the world a best seller?
But I am suckered in by numerous good reviews and a fairly interesting book jacket description, so I buy it and take it with me on a trip camping with my family. Of course it totally sucks. I'm kicking myself because I feel like I really should have known. But the reviews - ALL the reviews - are absolutely positive from generally reliable sources, so I just DO. NOT. UNDERSTAND.
Here's why I don't like it: I am about a third of the way into it, and literally hundreds of characters have been introduced. NOT ONE of them has done anything interesting, so I am finding it nearly impossible to keep them straight. I am the type that will be more or less satisfied reading the back of a cereal box, but this is BAD. I mean bad. The mystery is dull. The who done it is more like a who cares. The two primary characters are so far not very likable at all - in fact, the review descriptions are more interesting than the book descriptions of them. I'm betting part of the problem is the translation, presumably - but god, there is just some boring writing in here, too. "He went to the store. He bought milk. He was cold. He went home." - BOR-RING! I am not really exaggerating, either.
"He put on a pot of coffee and made himself two sandwiches. He had not eaten a proper meal all day, but he was strangely uninterested in food. he offered the cat a piece of sausage and some liverwurst. After drinking the coffee, he took the cigarettes out of his jacket pocket and opened the pack."
Again, I'm willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt with the translating, but I wouldn't have gotten out of high school writing with that kind of boring and utterly pointless description. It sets the tone of "lonely dude being lonely" but really: two sandwiches? why two? sausage and liverwurst - fascinating.
That's really just a page I opened to randomly - there is much worse. I am truly bitterly resentful of every minute I am stuck on the side of this mountain without a good book to read. I'm ready to browse the mini mart down the way and read the real estate magazines instead. Why have all the reviewers and Amazon steered me SO WRONG???
I am not starting any kind of flame war here or trying to insult anyone's taste - so please don't get mad about my opinion. But if you love this book, please - tell me WHY. What am I missing?
Henrik Vanger, an elderly Swedish industrialist, has long been receiving the same anonymous gift on his birthday: a single framed flower. He is convinced the series of flowers has something to do with his great-niece Harriet who vanished decades ago in mysterious circumstances when she was just 16.
Vanger coerces a disgraced and prison-bound journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, to do some research into the disappearance. In exchange for information on his niece, Vanger promises Blomkvist enough dirt to take down the rich man who is sending him to jail.
So begins "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," a blockbuster best-seller in Europe. As Blomkvist moves closer to the truth, he teams up with the titular character, a tattooed detective named Lisbeth Salander who's the real star of the show. Together they uncover things that stun even Blomkvist, a crusading financial reporter who thought he knew all there was to know about the rot of corruption, the myriad abuses of power and the darkest sides of ourselves.
The novel is long and sometimes feels even longer; it takes its time threading out the dense plot. There's a lot going on here. This is the kind of book that provides you with a family-tree chart upfront; by midpoint you may be wishing there were even more aids offered by the author to keep track of things.
There is a series of horrible crimes at the heart of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," but I hesitate to call this work a thriller. It's a crime novel, yes, but it has more on its mind than generic conventions. The author, the late Stieg Larsson, was a journo in the muckraking tradition, like his character Blomkvist. The book serves up a heapin' helpful of essay that tastes like story but isn't. And while the mystery element is shockingly compelling in spots, it's also surprisingly unsurprising in others.
A million Europeans can't be wrong, and I'd be dishonest to say there's nothing worthwhile about this novel that is so popular across the pond. Despite its stop-and-go pace and tortuous (and sometimes tortured) construction, there is a serious emotional undertone to the book that is undeniable.
If you're not yet bored with stories that present villains you've seen a hundred times before -- e.g., reactionaries, racists and capitalists -- you might just enjoy this. Me, I really wanted to like this book and I did, but just barely. It's a lesser "Smilla's Sense of Snow," and for many that's obviously enough.
on June 7, 2010
The actual English translation of the Swedish title is..."Men Who Hate Women." Sure wouldn't have purchased it with that title and must be some brainy marketing stooge figured I wouldn't either. But the author should be given credit, at least, for not intending to dupe the reader. It is a book about men who hate women.
Having suffered through this poorly constructed novel with bland writing, shallow characters, dull narrative interspersed with grizzly episodes, I grieve for anyone who enjoyed it. Hard to imagine that mutilating, burning, sexually humiliating and stoning women and torturing animals to death can be a good read. And like the Twilight series, it gives one pause to consider a society that embraces such a work with the degree of celebrity that this mediocre piece enjoys.
BTW the dragon tattoo is a complete red herring.
on June 20, 2010
Before you read this review, pour yourself a cup of coffee ...
In this Swedish thriller Mikael Blomkvist, a financial journalist / magazine editor who has just lost a libel case under shadowy circumstances, is hired by multi-millionaire Henrik Vanger to investigate a decades old disappearance case of his niece Harriet. Harriet vanished from a small island owned by the powerful Vanger family.
Would you like another cup of coffee?
Blomkvist teams with Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker with an amazing photographic memory and anti-social tendencies who...has a dragon tattoo.
Let me put on another pot of coffee.
This a strange book, the middle is fast paced and exciting as the investigation into Harriet's case evolves, even though I found it impossible to keep up with the various Vanger cousins and relatives (Blomkvist researches through a cover story of ghost writing Henrik Vanger's biography), the ending is a bit slow and takes a turn from a murder mystery to a financial takedown.
Here, have another cup of coffee.
The character of Lisbeth is drawn up very well, but Blomkvist is lacking some depth. After 460 pages it's not clear whether Blomkvist actually cares about the women he sees or just resigned to his commitment issues, sure he's a nice guy - we've been told that by every woman he sleeps with.
Another cup of coffee?
Even though I don't understand what the title has anything to do with the book (besides the obvious, literal meaning - which in the context of the book is meaningless as well), I still liked it. The story is well written and interesting; the characters are engaging and well drawn. This is a good book and deserves praise.
A note to acknowledge the fine translation by Reg Keeland, if you know him, buy him a cup of coffee from me.
And if you didn't get it, everybody drinks coffee...or about to have a cup...or making coffee...or cleaning the coffee machine. Literally every other page - I'm not exaggerating.
Personally, I thought it was hilarious.
on July 20, 2009
My thoughts; "Eh."
I don't know, where does one start? I picked this book up after hearing how it was a best seller in Europe. A complex murder mystery that gripped the continent and if not for his unfortunate early demise would bring forth a novelist who would take the publishing world by storm.
After reading the five star reviews on Amazon and watching the QuickTime advertisement that provided stats that any author would envy, I sat back with a large cup of cocoa and prepared myself for a literary experience. I was excited.
***THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW***
The prologue didn't disappoint. I was immediately hooked. A tired elderly old man, Henrik Vagner, is ravaged by the disappearance of his niece and the gift he has received for his eighty-second birthday, a pressed framed flower. He has been receiving this same gift, mailed from different parts of the world, on the first day of November for the past forty-three years.
The book does a great job setting itself up. We go from the prologue to the main character Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist for the muckraker magazine, Millennium. The story opens with Mikael being disgraced in the courts for libel against the Wennerstrom corporation and sentenced to a few months prison. Before he is to go to prison, he is summoned to the Vangner residence where he is hired to perform one last investigation into the disappearance of Henrik's niece, Harriet Vagner.
We are also introduced to Lisbeth Salander, a physically and emotionally abused women who is under state controlled child custody at the age of twenty-four. In the Swedish court system, Salander has been uncooperative through her life's traumas and thus perceived as not fit to take care of herself. She finds herself going from one legal guardian to the next. Secretly though, she turns out to be a brilliant computer hacker and quite capable of handling herself.
It is after the set-up where the book strays from its strengths. The author attempts to bring to light the suffering and abuse of women in Sweden as well as the courts and law enforcements failure to keep them protected. The introduction of this story element almost feels like an afterthought and is too important of a topic to use for subtext.
There is a completely unnecessary rape scene that the author handles abhorrently. I am not one who believes that male author's are unable to accurately portray female characters in their story's, but Stieg Larsson is a shining example of why that perception exist.
To have one of the main characters suffer a rape and then handle it with a quick revenge sequence, followed by no real emotional impact to the character in question demonstrates a man's inability to understand just what impact rape has on women. The story didn't need this element and the credibility of the character was completely lost for me.
It was at this point where the excitement to read on, was replaced by the urge to close the book. Yet, I continued on.
Mikael can't seem to keep his "manhood" in his pants for very long and we find that he strolls into one sexual relationship after another. Again, there is no consequence for this behavior. Thus, there is no reason for it in the story other than to fulfill the author's sexual fantasies, unless of course it's perfectly normal in Sweden to go around screwing your neighbor, married or not.
The author sets up corporate corruption, but really it's never delved into and has absolutely nothing to do with main mystery of the story. As a matter of fact, most plot elements don't intertwine at all. The author has a lot he wants to tell, but he keeps all these elements separate. Again, he takes you out of one story and puts you into another. This left me frustrated as a reader.
It is while writing the mystery the Larsson is at his best. I found myself really captured by Mikael's quest to find out what happened to Harriet. It was fun going on the journey of discovery as he tracks down the clues that lead him to the conclusion. Unfortunately Mikael isn't the prime mover of the story and, as in many failed mysteries, the villain has to reveal himself to the protagonist in order to be discovered and taken down, which by the way is a very depraved plot line. Disturbing and odd in its truth, this plot line did not fit into the overall feel of the book. It was as if Hannibal Lecter took over for a couple of chapters. A sexually deviant Hannibal Lecter.
What is odd, is that the Antagonist (if you want to call him that) is taken down almost one hundred and fifty pages before the end of the novel. I found myself asking, is the mystery over? There is so much book left, what twist is going to come out of this? What curve ball is the author going to give that makes me say, "Of course, how didn't I see that coming?"
But that never happens. Instead the last hundred and fifty pages covers a caper plot that redeems Mikael against the Wennerstrom Corporation. A man we never really see and of whom we know nothing about. I found myself skimming through the last pages uninterested and just waiting for it to end.
If you like mysteries there are much better books out there. If you like stories about double cross, go read another.
Just skip this one.
on November 25, 2009
Looking at all the rave reviews online by both customers and professional reviewers, I feel like I somehow missed the boat. Only the NY Times review made me feel that I wasn't alone in my dislike for this book, even though when I started I had very high hopes and wanted to like it.
A lot of people have already outlined the plot, so I won't go into it here especially since it's rather complex in and of itself.
Personally, what set me off at first from the book is the writing style. It is how one would write an article for a newspaper, magazine, etc.; succeint and to the point. Which of course makes sense looking at the fact that the late author was a reporter. But what feels wrong to me is the fact that he spends so much time telling. Everytime I started to get an image in my mind about what a house, village, person looked like, it could never fully form because I was essentially being told the basic outline and that's all. This writing style is not immersive to me, nor were the parts where plot advancements/clues are literally bashed over the readers head just in case we really are as obtuse as Herr Larsson seems to suspect.
I found both lead characters rather stiff and lacking any sort of defining personality. Mikael Blomkvist, the male lead, apparently is so hot that every women wants to have sex with him and a vast majority end up loving him. He has been a serial adulter for over twenty years with one woman, losing his own marriage to this affair and also takes on other women on the side. He really seems to have no regard for any of his sexual partners and believes that sex is merely a recreation and its your fault if you even dare suggest it be thought of as something more. Several times in the novel he makes incredibly dumb desicions and at the climax of the main mystery he makes one of the stupidest mistakes, something so brazenly foolish that you wonder if he was given any brains at all.
Lisbeth Salander, the female lead is a little more sympathic but Larsson seems focused on making every bad thing in world that is possible happen to her. This is a spoiler, but seeing that it has been mentioned all throughout the reviews here I'll go ahead: there is a graphic rape scene regarding her. While, supposedly, the rapist returns in the second book, it still seems completely out of place and unnecessary. It does nothing to further the plot/story whatsoever. To make matters worse the whole sequence reads like a revenge fantasy rather then what would actually happen to a 24 year old, emotionally impaired woman who was sadistically raped.
These three things mixed together - the writing style, and the two main characters - made for a very subpar reading experience for me. I so wanted to like this book, I thought the plot sounded intense and like a breath of fresh air. Instead, as the centeral mystery wound to it's conclusion, things just got out of control and exited the realm of what could be believed and instead seemed to be used more for shock value.
For those that are worried about reading a translated book, don't be. Yes there are a couple of translator errors and a couple of sentences that aren't just clunky in English but actually don't make sense unless you reorder the words. Other then these small problems though, it's pretty smooth. As someone who has done translation work before, it's hard to be 100% perfect and this is definitely one of the better translations that I've read.
Tedious, cliche-ridden and devoid of likable characters, I only finished this one because it's my book club's choice for this month. Contains graphic sex and violence, much of which has nothing to do with the mystery of the story. I saw the end coming from less than two-hundred pages in (though albeit, I thought the killer had a different motive), and I wish I had followed my gut instinct and stopped reading after two graphic rape scenes (warning: devices are used for these) that turned out to have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE STORY!!!
The main female character has trouble reacting to situations and interacting with people. She is often described as having a blank expression, and she refuses to talk to psychologists or any authorities. She's a ward of the state and deemed "mentally incompetent," yet she functions as this amazing researcher and computer hacker. It's only in the final pages that the main male character hypothesizes that she may have Asberger's Syndrome. Oh, yeah Stieg Larrssen? That might have been a handy piece of solid info earlier on to help us know the girl and be amazed by her talents at a much earlier point in the narrative.
And that male character, ech. He's a total mimbo, sleeping with every available lady in the book, none of whom he has any kind of attachment to. The ladies find him irresistible, though I myself imagined him as a kind of heavier, older version of Stellen Skarsgard, who is like, probably Robert Redford in Sweden. Seriously. Even the chicks he doesn't bag look at him sideways like all he has to do is say the word. He is attached to one woman, an old friend who's married, and yet both of them expect their other lovers to just "understand" their bond. Maybe it's that way in Sweden, but it didn't hold much weight for me.
In all the narrative goes off in quite a few directions that are never followed through on, with long portions that really don't tie well enough into the story. Overall, a big waste of my valuable reading time.