Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book 101: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Even though I've already hit a hundred, I figured I'd just keep tracking how much I'm reading for the year until the next round.

I'm not really sure why it took me so long to get around to this: I kept hearing about, and how great it was but I just wouldn't pick it up. Maybe I just figured if it was so popular, it probably wasn't necessarily that good. I was pleasantly surprised and happy to be proven wrong.

The title character is Lisbeth Salander who works as a freelance investigator for a security firm. She and Mikael Blomkvist, a reporter specializing in economic and business, both end up involved in a case investigating a forty year old disappearance. Larsson manages to tie many different stories together in this novel: Mikael is first introduced while on trial for slander against a corrupt capitalist. After the guilty verdict comes in, Mikael needs to disappear for a while to let his reputation recover some. Henrik Vanger takes advantage of this to hire him to investigate his niece's disappearance, and possible murder. Close to death, he wants to give it one last shot to find answers. In addition to promising Mikael a ridiculous amount of money, he also implies that he has information and hard proof regarding the capitalist that just put him on trial. Despite his initial hesitation, Mikael agrees to take the job.

Against all odds, Mikael ends up finding some new evidence, and in his search for an answer to a forty year old case, stumbles upon something older and darker that continues into the present. Salander was originally hired to do a background check on Mikael, and once he gets deeper into the investigation, he convinces Henrik to let him hire a research assistant. Lisbeth is somewhat anti-social, and the narrative alludes to a terrible event in her past several times. Some of her past is revealed but not all of it, which given that Larrson wrote three novels makes complete sense.

Larrson begins the different sections of his novels with statistics about violence against women, and uses Salander to explore power, helplessness and gender. Salander also finds a column on unsolved crimes against women helpful while doing her research. Larrson talks about hatred of women and crimes against women but I don't think he does it in a way that is sensationalist or exploitative. In fact, with the exception of an early scene with Salander, most of the violence committed against women occurs off the page, and isn't described in too much detail, just enough to know that the person committing these crimes is a sick misogynistic bastard.

To go cliche, this was a page turner - very good, I'd definitely recommend it.

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