I was a little hesitant to pick this book up, at first, partially because so far my experience with Swedish crime writing has been solely Henning Mankell based. And the Wallander books certainly have their own feel, a sort of calm lull before and after storms, a meandering thought process and investigation, that I had grown accustomed to. By all accounts, Lisbeth Salander and Larsson offered no such things. Eventually, however, curiosity killed the cat and the buzz surrounding this trilogy grew to such a ridiculous level that I picked The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo up at the library.
Larsson is certainly no Mankell, that’s for sure. The book immediately grabbed my interest with a fantastic prologue, setting up a creepy mystery with a possible-crime–someone sending obscure, pressed flowers not native to Sweden to a police chief every year for a very long time–but then it instantly lost it. The long introduction to one of the main characters (Salander is arguably more of a show stealer) was necessary, but felt plodding. I found my eyes glazing over as I read details of Blomkvist’s fall from grace, and I knew that I should care more than I did about what happened to him. Things began to pick up with the introduction of Salander, though, who I could tell from the beginning was going to be a problematic character for me, both because she was interesting, but also came off as a bit of a creepy male fantasy “ideal alterna-woman,” capable of kicking ass, but still delicate, gorgeous, and with a mysterious, unpleasant past.
First of all, I don’t know whether this is a problem with the translation or the actual writing, but I found it kind of dry in a way that I didn’t enjoy. It made it hard to focus on the book at certain parts (especially when endless brothers, sons, great-nieces of the Vanger family were being uncatalogued, or financials discussed) because my eyes kept glancing off of the words. The actual mystery, though, kept me riveted, even if I had guessed the murderer as soon as that characterw as introduced–there were still plot twists enough that I was surprised even so.
Some reviewers have made mention that this is a “righteously angry” book, which is an assessment that I can’t disagree with. It is almost oppressively so at times; leaning towards the self-righteous. Each chapter is headed off with a statistic about violence by Swedish men towards Swedish women–they are depressing, to be sure. But by contrast, some of the sexual violence in the book seems to be too graphic… not quite intended to titillate sexually, but to titillate our senses of horror, if that makes sense. I was uncomfortable in a way that went beyond the normal discomfort of reading a rape scene (it may have been the extremely clinical language contrasted with the violence and that character’s reaction to it…)
Another qualm I have is that supporting characters were rather two-dimensional. Even Blomkvist himself is a sort of a cypher, a “nice” man without many personality traits beyond being a decent person and the straight man to Salander’s screwball.
Either way, I can’t quite say that I enjoyed reading this book. I found it fascinating (except for the denouement, which went back to mind-numbingly boring financials and a revenge I didn’t care about), and will probably read the sequels, but it’s not going to be gaining a place on my bookshelf any time soon.