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Kalle Blomkvist has a bit of historical mystery on his hands.........
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
Member Name: pmcds
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
Advantages: Characters; eventual plot; eventual pace
Disadvantages: The first 150 pages or so are very slow
It's probably six months since I first heard about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The moment I heard the name, it reminded me of the historical tale, Girl With A Pearl Earring, and I wasn't interested. However, after my father in law bought the book and its two sequels and then read them, my wife borrowed them and wouldn't stop raving about them. It was inevitable that I would then read them, but needed to steel myself for the occasion. I have just finished The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and have nearly immediately picked up the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire.
The hype element has come about due to the author of the books, as opposed to the content. Stieg Larsson (not to be confused with established Swedish author and Stieg's friend Stig Larsson) reportedly wrote the books, handed them in to his publisher, and then subsequently died in unforeseen circumstances. As I understand it, there's nothing untoward or suspicious about it, but the timing of his death has resulted in a worldwide fanatic response to the books. Translated from its original Swedish by Reg Keeland, there are three books known collectively as the Millenium Trilogy, of which The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the first. To save myself from typing the title every time I want to mention it, I shall refer to it as 'Dragon'.
The tale's build up............
Picking up the book, following the rave reviews I had heard, I expected an instant explosion of brilliantly woven crime thriller. However, what I got for the first 150 pages or so, was a great deal of character development and historical scene setting. Without having researched Larsson myself, I got the feeling I was reading the writing of a reporter or a researcher, as the depth and intricacy of detail was astounding. While this was impressive, it did mean that it took a while to get into, and a good couple of weeks for me to cover these first 150 pages or so.
What this lengthy intro, if you like, Larsson brings into play his two main characters. Despite the title, the main character of this first book is undoubtedly Mikael 'Kalle' Blomkvist. An investigative reporter and co-owner of the magazine 'Millenium', he has just lost a court case due to an article he wrote and published about a potentially corrupt businessman. Straight away, Larsson sets this character as the hero, and develops him, deeply explaining the magazine, and how Blomkvist got hold of the information in the first place, through a protected source. We get a feel for the righteous yet humble character Mikael becomes throughout the book, and also his relationship with the other people at the magazine, including his two business partners, a rival journo and various employees.
In the meantime, we are also introduced the the heroine: Lisbeth Salander, the girl in the title. I spent a long time waiting for the relevance of the title to the story, before I found out that a literal translation from the Swedish to the English would have been 'Men Who Hate Women'. This confused me greatly, but I went with the flow. Lisbeth is also very well developed in this first part of the book, and we see the complicated and twisted character she is. What Larsson does very well with her, is paint her as someone having a clincially diagnosed mental health issue, yet when we're reading about her from her perspective, nothing is different. She doesn't think any different, just logically, and you wonder if there has been a misdiagnosis. It's only her outward attitude that belies something deeper that we perhaps may not be allowed to see. She is a computer hacker and freelance researcher, with secrets galore. The people she surrounds herself with, or who are court appointed to look after her, know well enough to leave her alone and let her call the shots in her life.
Again, as with Mikael's intro, there is immense depth in the events during these first 150 pages or so, but ultimately, it's very slow going indeed, and you wonder just how much of this part of the book will have any relevance later on. Sure enough, there are relevances, but even after reading the book, I still feel that aside from deeply developing the two main characters right from the off, it dragged quite a bit and I was put off.
Things start heating up.................
Then, all of a sudden, we get a bit of development in the plot, and things stop being background padding, as Mikael's current situation needs him to stay secluded for a while. When he is approached by Henrik Vanger, former CEO of a large, family-based industrial company, and offered a generous sum to look into the disappearance of his niece over 40 years ago, he is drawn into it by a promise from Vanger that has personal relevance. From here, things hot up, and as Lisbeth's storyline slowly comes into the fray, the two of them find themselves deeply involved not just in the disappearance, but in what becomes an age old murder thriller fraught with suspicion, tension, violence and a family tree with secrets that just keep on coming out of the closet.
The Vanger Corporation is at the heart of this, and it is Henrik's niece, Harriet Vanger, who is the girl who went missing 40 odd years ago. Larsson creates a very clever scenario where there is an island, Hedeby, which was cut off by an accident on the only bridge to access it. While this is happening, Harriet goes missing, and is never found. Therefore, her disappearance, or suspected murder, must have something to do with the one of the people present on the island at that time. We meet the various members of the family, and Larsson develops them very well, as the plot develops alongside it.
What I liked about the book after the first 150 pages or so was the pace. It was as if he was bored himself of just plain description with not a lot of action happening. The story had flicked from Blomkvist to Lisbeth a number of times without largely developing either part very much, and I was saying the same thing to my wife, who was telling me to be patient and let it unfold - that it would get a lot better all of a sudden. And this is very true. Once things started to happen, I found Larsson's plot and character combinations excellent. I was completely immersed, and found myself finishing the rest of the 537 page book in a matter of a few days once this initial phase was through.
Dealing with awkward subject matter.................
It flows very well once it gets going, but one thing worth mentioning is the subject matter at times. It deals a lot with sexuality, and Larsson doesn't pull his punches, either. There are elements of sexual violence and abuse, and while it is done tastefully without overstepping the mark, there are descriptive elements which may be considered hard to stomach. The plot is so well thought out that there are elements which comes into play throughout, and it's like there are 3 or 4 plots which interweave all the way through. This allows Larsson to leave something alone for a good number of pages before bringing us back onto the subject. It means that even the more stomach churning of passages have a breather before we're subjected to it again.
This type of balanced plot development is part of the reason I was hooked. It's a very complex and intelligently written tale that holds enough breadth to allow further development in the other books. The characters make this book as good as it is, and despite a really slow and painful start, by the end of the book, you can understand and appreciate how and why so much time was taken with it. The detail is astounding, although you'd expect this to be a strong point from an author was a journalist himself during his career, and the translation into English doesn't seem to lose any feeling. This has been expertly done, and I suppose Keeland must get some of the applause for enabling the feeling and intelligent power of the book to come through in the translation. There are a couple of moments where the flow of a sentence doesn't completely sit right, or a phrase seems out of context or not quite right, but if you weren't aware of this being a translated piece of work, you wouldn't look twice.
I do recommend reading this. Expertly constructed and a thrilling and gripping tale. It's a shame that it spent so long getting going, and I would have loved to see the early parts somehow incorporated into the main story developments a bit more in order for them to not drag quite so much. Had this happened, then I would have been raving about this as much as everyone else seems to be. As it stands, it's well worth a read, and I wouldn't hesitate in recommending it to anyone who wants a good read, but I would add the caveat that it takes a while to get going. Other than this, nothing wrong with it whatsoever, and I can't wait for the second book to get going.
A little bit more..................
The trilogy is focused around the main characters of Lisbeth and Mikael, and the trilogy is named the Millenium Trilogy because of the magazine Mikael co-owns. The first book has been made into a film, in its original language of Swedish, featuring a cast whose names I don't recognise. Inevitably, Hollywood is trying to sink its teeth into it as well, to satisfy those who like the familiar face and detest subtitles or dubbing. Personally, I'd like to see Hollywood leave it alone and perhaps promote the Swedish film that's already out. Such as worldwide hyped book series such as this could be a big stepping stone for bridging the gap between World Cinema and Hollywood. Sadly, Larsson is not around to offer his tuppence worth. However, what he has left before his sad demise is a set of books that are well worth reading. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo retails for £7.99, as many paperbacks tend to nowadays, and the other two follow suit in terms of price. They'll start appearing on the shelves of charity bookshops before long, so if you're interested then this is a cheaper option, of course.
All I can say is, take your time, and trust that the author will get there in the end. Sure, it takes a while, but it's one of things that's definitely worth the wait. Thanks for reading.
Summary: Well worth it once it gets going; a thrillingly well written murder mystery