Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – by Stieg Larsson

If my friend Joanne hadn’t given me this book to read, I would never have picked it up. You see it all over the bestseller racks now. Stieg Larson was a Swedish journalist. This is his first book. He wrote two more, part of the Millennium Trilogy, but he died before he could enjoy seeing his books published.

This story plays almost entirely in Sweden, a country slightly bigger than California with only about 9 million people. Los Angeles by itself, in population, is larger than Sweden. As a result, we don’t read a lot of popular novels of Swedish origin. This was my first one, and it took some time getting into it. The name of the main protagonist is Kalle Blomkvist. The girl with the dragon tattoo has a name of Lisbeth Salander. One of the villains has the name Hans-Erik Wennerström. The names of towns, streets, cafes and other places are utterly alien to the American reader.

The novel provides an excellent look into modern Sweden, the Swedish way of life and their thinking. The plot must be one of the most complicated of any book that I have read. Each major character has a side plot going that mainly helps characterize the person so we see him or her more clearly. The detail in the description is phenomenal, not only describing history, business and locations, but seemingly unimportant side information. For example, this is a random section I picked off page 216:

The loss of her computer was depressing but not disastrous. Salander had had an excellent relationship with it during the year she had owned it. She had backed up all her documents, and she had an older desktop Mac G3 at home, as well as a five-year-old Toshiba PC laptop that she could use. But she needed a fast, modern machine.

Unsurprisingly she set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminum case with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVek Velocity Engine, 960 MB RAM and 60 GB hard drive. It had BlueTooth and built-in CD and DVD burners.

Best of all, it had the first 17-inch screen in the laptop world with NVIDIA graphics and a resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels, which shook the PC advocates and outranked everything else on the market.

Now, is this stuff odd to read in a novel? Perhaps not any different from Harper Lee describing Boo Radley’s clothes as he walks across the front yard, but it takes some getting used to. The above example is not unusual. Every page is packed with amazing detail.

The story is a macabre techno-thriller with a historic bent. Blomkvist, a journalist recently the victim of a libel suit by a billionaire industrialist, gets hired by the patriarch of one of Sweden’s most prominent rich families to research their family history. Eventually he crosses paths with Salander (the girl with the dragon tattoo) who is an expert researcher with a history all of her own. Together they not only pursue the mysteries of the past, but get into serious and dark trouble in the present.

Blomkvist is a bachelor who does not get into any love relationships but ends us sleeping with most of  the women he has contact with. He calls himself an occasional lover. The women don’t seem to mind sharing him for the most part, and there are a few scenes where one walks in on him doing it with another. I guess it’s a European thing.

The Girl in the title is one of the protagonists, but not even the major one. The dragon tattoo has nothing to do with the story. I guess it just made for a good title. Of all the characters in the book, Salander is the one that I had trouble believing. Clearly made to be unusual, there was just too much of unusualness for me to buy it. The character was overdone and inherently inconsistent. She is about 24, and one of the most brilliant researchers, and computer hackers, in Sweden. She is 4’11” and 90 pounds, anorexic looking, Goth dressed with piercings and a multitude of tattoos. She has a photographic memory, is bisexual, speaks German, English and Swedish fluently and so well that she can even fake an accent in her English and German, as the story tells. She does not believe in emotions, has no friends, but likes sex, but only when she initiates it. If somebody else does, it’s rape. I don’t want to spoil the book for you – there is plenty more salacious detail and background that will surprise you. Just be warned. The heroine is a caricature.

After a halting start where I had trouble getting into the book, it quickly became a page-turner and I stayed up late reading. I kept wanting to know who-dunnit. I enjoyed the thriller, the meticulously planned and plotted story, the excruciating detail and the fresh air in general of reading a book for once not written by an American mainstream author.

This  book was fun entertainment and a nice break from what I usually read. However, I probably will NOT read the next two books of the trilogy. One as enough.

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