Every now and again I take a break from romance reading. Sometimes it’s to scour my brain and take a break from tropes that seem over familiar or frustrations that seem perennial. Sometimes it’s because I love good mystery novels, though I don’t often review them here, and I crave the puzzle and change of pace that good mystery provides. And sometimes I’m curious about a book that I hear mentioned over and over.
If I hear about a book from different people in completely different contexts, it catches my attention because most of the time, the different groups of people I know don’t overlap much. If I hear about the same book in multiple venues, like on Twitter, via email, on my personal Facebook, and in person, I take a good look at it. So it was with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: I was craving a break from romance, and this book presented itself to me multiple times.
I don’t usually go for books that have a lot of hype behind them. It took a very good friend saying to me, “No, really, ignore all that crap and read it” before I picked up The DaVinci Code. But the personal recommendations of people who don’t normally interact in the network that is my life made me download a sample, then buy the book outright.
I don’t think I need to tell you it’s not a romance, do I? It’s really not a romance.
I don’t even know if I can accurately summarize the plot without giving away too much, but I’ll give it a shot. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired to write a family history for elderly industrialist Henrik Vanger – in exchange for information Blomkvist needs to clear his name. But Blomkvist finds out from Vanger that his real assignment is to find out what happened to Vanger’s niece, Harriet, who disappeared when she was 16. When Blomkvist connects with researcher Lisbeth Salander by accident, the two find new information, and reveal long-hidden secrets while antagonizing the people trying to keep them.
Blomkvist and Salander start out as distant stars in each other’s orbit – and more than once I wondered how, or if, they’d ever really team up. But once they do, it’s powerful.
The biggest flaws I had with Larsson’s writing were the repetitive nature of tiny details – if you see a mention of a beer, an open faced sandwich, a character walking somewhere to buy dinner, or a product manufactured by Apple, DRINK and DRINK HARD because it’ll numb the pain of so much detailed redundancy! If someone mentions snow, though, just shrug, because it’s Sweden and they have some of it up there.
The other problem was the uneven portrayal of character emotion. There are nuances to so many characters that reveal them slowly, and Larssen has some moments of exquisite and painfully precise writing that left me breathless. And then, more than once, two people will bump uglies after a leadup that might as well have been Dave Barry’s dialogue: “Male, this is female. I wish to have sex relations with you.” People meet and start boinking with all the forethought one might use to sneeze – as if they can’t help themselves from aligning body parts for maximum friction. I mean, holy crap, the complete absence of slow-built sexual tension was jarring, especially when contrasted with the slow build of violent tension.
But then, this is a book that’s very much about violence and power, particularly against women, which can make it very difficult to read.
It’s also about a terribly smart, horrifically brilliant woman, who is both the predator and the victim. Salander is enormously powerful in her intellect, but powerless socially and legally, as she discovers upon meeting her new legal guardian. She’s a ward of the state, so to speak, though I’m sure the terms are different in Sweden, and it is up to her guardian how much autonomy she has.
But her intellect and her connections, both literal and virtual, coupled with a moral code that allows her to retaliate in kind to anyone who hurts or helps her, make her sneaky powerful. One might think her actions in the story point to a lack of morality, but really, her moral and ethical compass is very much present. It just doesn’t swing. There’s no grey area with Salander, except for the things she doesn’t concern herself with at all – and therefore doesn’t care about. Salander has no hesitation in acting once she’s determined the best strategy, and, because she’s been taught so much about choosing the “appropriate” and “right” behavior (which aren’t always the same thing), she has no patience with anyone who attempts to excuse their choices.
Salander’s eyes blazed with fury. Blomkvist quickly went on.
“I’m only saying that I think a person’s upbringing does play a role.”
“Bullshit,” Salander said again…. “I just think it’s pathetic that creeps always have to have someone else to blame.”
In Salander’s world, you are responsible entirely for your own actions, because she is held entirely responsible for hers, even when she isn’t at all responsible for the circumstances that have precipitated her choices. That’s irrelevant to her way of thinking. There is no buck to be passed with Salander, and if there were, she wouldn’t let go of it long enough for it to ulimately stop with her. Responsibility always rests on the individual, and chillingly, she accepts responsibility in full for all of her actions – which makes her one scary badass motherfucker.
As a character, Salander is fascinating, and I’d keep reading the series just to follow her, as painful and horrific and inspiring and amazing as her story was. As a character, she’s stunning: the awkward, socially uncomfortable techy geek girl who kicks ass and knows why your parents chose your name because her info-digging skills are that good. She kick ass, and regardless of how painful it is, I couldn’t stop watching her. I lost patience with Blomkvist more than once, and grew tired of scenes where he wasn’t with Salander – and wanted to toss him over a balcony railing more than a few times – but I couldn’t stop reading about Lisbeth. She is, like the title suggests, the center of the book.
The biggest let-down of the book for me, though, was the ending. Truly believable, if not a little kooky, people populate the novel, until the end when villain-by-hyperbole takes over. It may be second place to the dissatisfaction I find in a deus-ex-machina ending – the villain-by-hyperbole ending where there isn’t much this horrible person hasn’t done or will do on the next page.
Yet despite that, I couldn’t stop reading. The glue-fulness of the text is not to be underestimated. Once I picked up the book, especially once it gets going at holycrapwarpspeed in the middle, and especially after I met Salander, it was very difficult to put it down. I’m not sure to what I should attribute the addictiveness of the read. As much as it made me flinch and want to stop reading and look away, I couldn’t. Salander is both a hero and an antihero, with both a rigid and somehow fluid morality that was fascinating.
So here’s the cool part: I was contacted about the book after I’d started reading it to ask if I’d participate in a campaign to spread the word about the movie, the book, and (most importantly) the subject matter within it. Julie from WritingRoads and Music Box Films have masterminded a blog scavenger hunt, and this is one stop on the trail to win free movie tickets and other prizes.
Standard disclaimers apply – i.e. I’m not compensated for this promotion, yadda yadda, and I paid for my copy of the book. Do not remove this tag under penalty of law. Please curb your dog.
What I found absolutely awesomesauce was that Julie and Music Box Films put together a collection of websites (and no, I’m not going to tell you which ones – that’d ruin the scavenger part!) that focus not only on the characters and the plot, but on the issues and problems dealt with in the film. I think it’s a way cool method of spreading the word about a book and a film, and also about topics that don’t get mentioned nearly enough.
From Julie, the official blurb for the contest:
Join the Dragon Tattoo Blog HUNT – an internet wide scavenger hunt tied to the feature film launch of bestselling book The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Win great prizes – free movie tickets, books, movie soundtrack, posters and more. To join the contest, start at the beginning of the HUNT by visiting http://www.dragontattoofilm.com/contest for full details and the first clue. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is in theaters near you starting March 19th.
THE FINAL CLUE:
For the final clue in the Dragon Tattoo Blog Hunt, click here.
Happy hunting – and if you win something, please let me know!
The film based on the book opens in the US on 19 March. No word on where you can purchase that yet!