Saturday, August 22, 2009

Stieg Larsson 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'

Minerva has been a muddled, useless, exhausted mess all day today, and it's entirely the fault of this book. Once she began reading, it was impossible to put it down. And even after it ended -- sometime around 3 AM -- it was impossible to go to sleep. How can anyone sleep with eyes staring, muscles clenched, and mind churning? All Minerva really wanted to do was turn the bedside lamp back on and read the whole thing again, just to make sure she understood how all the pieces fit. That's how good a thriller this is.

It starts out slowly. Indeed, for the first four chapters, it appears that "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is going to be an interesting (but not particularly thrilling) tale of a mildly swashbuckling investigative journalist, Mikael Blomqvist, who gets caught up in a labyrinth of corporate malfeasance and trickery. Three things hint otherwise: the tantalizing prologue; the grim statistics on the title pages of each section; and the gradual emergence of a thoroughly unlikely heroine, the diminutive, punked-out, utterly asocial yet brilliantly competent investigator Lisbeth Salander -- the girl with the dragon tattoo.

The book's original title is "Män som hatar kvinnor" -- Swedish for "Men Who Hate Women" -- and as the story unfolds, this central theme comes to the fore. Blomqvist, his career shattered by a libel suit, turns his investigative talents to the unsolved case of a girl who vanished -- presumably murdered -- thirty-six years earlier. Meanwhile, Salander, whose mysterious past was clearly a nightmare of violence and abuse, contends with an authority figure who seeks to further victimize her. And when Blomqvist and Salander join forces to probe into a grisly series of unsolved murders -- all women, all horribly brutalized -- well, that's when Minerva got out of bed, went downstairs, and triple-locked the front door. And that's the last word she's going to tell you about the plot.

'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is translated from the Swedish, apparently by an exceedingly competent robot. Occasionally there is the slightest slip -- as when Blomkvist asks Salander if he may "burn" a cigarette -- but for the most part, the writing is correct, in a coldly mechanical, faintly inhuman way. Perhaps the original text had the same iciness (Minerva will never know, Swedish not being a language she has any intention of learning), or perhaps it came about accidentally in translation. Either way, its chilling tone is extremely effective.

Minerva fully intends to read the next two books in the trilogy -- "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest" -- but is in no particular hurry to do so. Her shattered nerves demand a soothing dose of Austen or Trollope.

Rating: 5 out of 5 sets of cold steel handcuffs.


Marg said...

I have really enjoyed the two books in this series. Can't wait for the third one to come out!

Heloise said...

Awesome! And a book I've been interested in reading. Bonus. :)