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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO


Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo puts me in a peculiar position; two of my best friends, avid and intelligent readers highly recommend it. My brother-in-law who travels with his Kindle close to his heart so he can grab every available minute to read gives this novel, a national best seller, rave reviews. Yet another friend, a voracious reader, disliked it enough to give up early in the book. I did not get involved with the book until I was almost halfway through, and while I decided to stick with it only to find the crime's solution, I am now debating whether to weather the second book in the trilogy Larsson left us after his death simply to learn more about one of the characters. My reaction is not close to any of my friends'. If anything, it is surprisingly close to the New York Times Book Review's.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a crime novel that had the potential to wow any fan of this genre. The crime exposes the underbelly of depravity in an essentially misogynistic society. Larsson's plots make strange bedfellows of some very unusual characters. I mean that both figuratively and literally. The novel centers around a dishonored journalist hired by the octegenarian head of a corporate dynasty to solve a 40 year old murder mystery. In his search for the murderer, Blomkvist teams up with a strange young woman, Lisbeth Salander, whose unfinished story intertwines with Blomkvist’s life as well as with his sleuthing. Other characters appear, and as a reader I expected them to forward the plot, but in most cases I landed dissatisfied in blind alleys. The denouement should tie up the loose ends. I need not be happy with the knots, but I should not be left hanging.

The potential is enormous, but I don't think Larsson even comes close. What he needed was a brave editor with a red Sharpie. Of the 590 pages, I'm sure more than 100 pages could be cut. The background of Blomkvist's legal troubles is, for the most part, extraneous except to explain why Henrik Vanger chose to hire him. Some of Blomkvist's other relationships do not forward the plot nor do they significantly allow us insight into Blomkvist's character. Some of his motivation is vague, and the book's ending is weak because we cannot understand his actions. I like to visualize the character, but I could never pick out Blomkvist in a crowd.

I got to know Lisbeth Salander a bit better, though she, too, was unsatisfactorily developed. At least I could see her physically. She develops as a strange, violent, iconoclastic, genius whose photographic memory allows her to do things way beyond her years and experience. So much about her is unknown, but that is not my only major problem. Her dialogue is so out of character. On some occasions she speaks as one would imagine, but for the most part, she speaks no differently from Blomkvist. It just doesn't work for me.

On the other hand, this crime novel is intriguing and unique. Was I unhappy that I plodded through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? No. Lisbeth Salander is incredibly intriguing. As she develops, I wished the book were entirely about her. I wish it so strongly that I am tempted to read Larsson's second book because she remains a character along with Blomkvist.

Why include this review in Third Age Traveler? My unfailing respect for my friends mean that avid readers can love this book. So you might want to give it a try.

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