Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is two stories in one: a shitty one wrapped around a good one.

When I first brought this audio book home from the library my wife wanted to know why I was reading a "girl's book."  First, it was recommended by a girl (thanks, Carolyn).  Second...  Well, there is no second.  When standing in front of the racks of audio books at the library you just have to grab something and the recommendation was fresh in my mind.

The core story (the good one) is an enjoyable mystery, especially considering that I don't typically like crime dramas.  Henrik Vanger, an aging Swedish industrialist, chooses to spend a portion of his fortune on the services of disgraced magazine editor and reporter Mikael Blomkvist to solve the disappearance of his 16 year old niece, an event that occurred nearly 40 years ago.  Her unsolved disappearance has been Vanger's obsession, not only because she was his favorite and potential successor, but because someone has been sending him a pressed flower on his birthday - just as she used to do. When Henrik instructs Mikael to solve the mystery no matter the implications, there's no way for him to know how horrendous the truth can be.  Mikael is joined in his pursuit of the truth by goth hacker and freelance investigator Lisbeth Salendar, the title character and unappreciated genius.  I understand why a film adaptation starring James Bond actor Daniel Craig is in the works.  Would I watch it?  Sure, when it's on TV.

Now for the shitty story.  There's a lot to be said for novels in which disparate story lines involving multiple characters can spiral together toward a climax, where aspects of each story line provide insight into the other, where characters can build off chance meetings and revelations.  Like him or not, Tom Clancy's early fiction demonstrated this superbly.  That's not the case here.  Story line A begins (the shitty story), story line B begins and runs to completion, then story line A ends.  Weakly.  I would've been happier had story line A never been introduced at all and more time and effort had been spent adding richness and detail to the core storyline (the good one).  Story line A involves why Blomkvist is disgraced, how that brings him and Vanger together, and how Blomkvist eventually addresses the issue of his disgrace (with Salendar's help).  And it's not just that the story line is unnecessary, it's also poorly written.  The picture of Sweden painted in the early parts of the book is dry and dusty like your grandmother's curio cabinet, awkward and self-conscious like hacky sack-playing hipsters that have gone just a little too long without a shower, and faded and irrelevant like a creased Polaroid from the 1970s.

Thank goodness I listened to it on audio book because I didn't have to stumble over pronunciations of Swedish person and place names.  On the other hand, the long sections involving the history of the Vanger clan got a little mind-numbing at 70 mph.

To paraphrase Dennis Miller, that's just my opinion - I could be wrong.

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