By: Stieg Larsson
Well, I finally jumped on the “popular books” bandwagon, a contraption I usually sneer at as it rumbles by and I clutch my eclectic, never-heard-of-out-of-print babies to my chest. But, I did quite enjoy J.K. Rowling, Jodi Picoult, and (do I have to admit this publicly?) Stephanie Myer. I’ve been hearing hype about this series ever since college when my journalism professors would swoon over the writing and give us excerpts to look at, so when I arrived to pick up a hold which the library didn’t have yet and the unabridged audiobook of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was sitting on display I decided why not?
The audiobook was a deceptive 13 discs (normal novel length usually). In pages, the bound book is 658 – so not a short read by any means. The story ostensibly starts with a dull conflict – journalist and co-owner of Millennium magazine Mikael Blomkvist is going to jail for libel over a true story exposing the financial mogul Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. His reputation dashed, Blomkvist is undeterred and naïve, continuing to suss out details about his arch enemy to redeem his name and save his magazine.
Meanwhile, a seemingly unrelated detective agency hires Lisbeth Salander, a bi-sexual, tattooed, and pierced punk with a strange work schedule and the innate ability to ferret out any and all secrets. But she has her own secrets, and she guards them very, very closely.
The two storylines merge (finally) when Henrik Vanger, another financial mogul and head of an enormous corporate enterprise, hires the defamed journalist Blomkvist to investigate a 40 year old mystery relating to the disappearance and supposed murder of Harriet Vanger. The promise: revelations to destroy his enemy and enough money to keep Millennium going. Only, Blomkvist can’t do it by himself and soon the enigmatic Lisbeth is brought into the volcanic mix as the two peel back layers of sordid history to see the rotten heart betting at the corrupt core of the Vanger family. Essentially, it’s an epic story that covers financial shenanigans, power plays, love, hatred, abuse, murder, rape, violence, mental disorders, ethics, and women’s rights, among other darker avenues.
Once the story gets going after the initial confusing two discs of fast introductions and detailed financial information (2 hours into the story), the reader becomes immersed in a tale that really is worth all the hype. It’s just about getting past that introductory bit where the setup seemingly leads nowhere, the introduced conflict isn’t actually paramount to the story, and the cut-and-dried world of finances overwhelms and bores regular readers (or people like me who can’t even balance a check book.) I was fairly tempted to throw the discs out of my car (had they not been the library’s) and instead dig into a new Stephen King I had. But, I persisted, and I am glad I did because the experience, once Henrik Vanger and Harriet entire the tale, turns into something serpentine, conflicted, emotional, and heavily characterized. It’s the best kind of mystery with the most shocking kinds of revelations – and no, you won’t see any of them coming. It’s certainly dark, corrupt, disturbing on many levels, and yet entangling someone. Once the Vanger’s with all their ignoble history enter the story readers will be addicted.
The characters are quite strange in this particular novel in that they were mostly unlikable (in the opinion of yours truly) and outside of the norm for what we socially accept as regular people. My big exception to this generalization is Lisbeth, the rebel of the story, and a character who I found relatable, enigmatic, and appealing. Lisbeth, despite her eccentricities (of which tattoos and piercings are not one – come on people, since when has this been shocking) lead us to wonder at her background and the demons of her own past. Quite simply, we like her.
Blomkvist, on the other hand, was a character that while not creating loathing in my heart, didn’t inspire any of those feelings that Stieg Larsson was going for – the picture of this innocent, ethical, naïve journalist interested in only the best. If he really is this unworldly then how exactly do his strange sexual relationships, namely with a married woman and best friend and anyone else who happens to be interested in him (lots) seem so simplistically easy. All these women in his life (with a notable two exceptions) seem quite happy with this open relationship and even are friends and friendly with each other. The experience of human nature and the supposed love he has for the married woman don’t jive with the casual interpersonal and personal relationships he has acquired. Likewise, someone this worldly wise certainly wouldn’t fall into a trap that readers see evidently set in the very beginning. Not to say that Blomkvist didn’t interest me or that I wasn’t rooting for his character – I was just questioning his veracity at certain points.
The mystery twists and turns and there are many stimulating leads which eventually reveal a big picture story forty years in the making (and hiding). Once the answer to the mystery is unveiled, the novel chugs along to wrap up loose ties, dwindling into a somewhat anticlimactic return to finances and Millennium with an unexpected, although captivating, side story with Lisbeth in the conclusion which has pretty much ensured that I’ll continue onto the second book.
Overall, while not perfect and far too financial, Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is one of those unforgettable mysteries and while the pace and conflict are diminished in the beginning and end segments, the main portion of the story will keep readers breathless with intrigue. Recommended.
A Note on the Audio Book: I highly recommend the audiobook read by Simon Vance. Vance imbued each character with a unique voice and persona, making this world truly come alive. Being read to was a sheer pleasure. I will certainly seek out author books read by this narrator.
- Frances Carden