Friday, January 15, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

Title: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson
Publisher: Penguin Canada, 2009 (Paperback)
Length: 841 pages
Genre: Adult; Mystery, True Crime
Started: January 11, 2010
Finished: January 15, 2010

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared off the secluded island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger family. There was no corpse, no witnesses, no evidence. But her uncle, Henrik, is convinced that she was murdered by someone from her own deeply dysfunctional family. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired to investigate, but he quickly finds himself in over his head. He hires a competent assistant: the gifted and conscience-free computer specialist Lisbeth Salander, and the two unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.

Usually when a book receives a ton of hype, I have a 50-50 chance of enjoying it. If it's typical chick-lit, I'll probably hate it; if it's something only guys would read (uber political sci-fi for example), I'll probably hate it. What made me take a stab at this book, a genre I rarely read, is that so many of the young adult authors that I regularly read couldn't stop raving about this series. Now that I've read it too I can safely say that the hype is well-deserved, this is one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a while. Plus it's Swedish, how cool is that?

The book opens with financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist getting convicted of libel and the first part of the novel recounts the circumstances behind how he came to be disgraced. Enter Henrik Vanger, the former CEO of a powerful conglomerate who asks Blomkvist to find out what really happened to his niece Harriet, who disappeared from the family's island in 1966 at the age of 16. Vanger entices Blomkvist to take on the case by offering him information that could be used to clear his name and prove that he didn't falsify the information that he was convicted of doing. While we learn about Blomkvist and his potential assignment, another simultaneous narrative introduces readers to Lisbeth Salander, a 24-year-old genius computer hacker who dresses like an angsty teenager. We learn how her legal guardian (apparently in Sweden a person can be appointed a guardian that handles their finances if they're deemed mentally unfit) got her a job at a company that essentially specializes in performing background checks on people for prospective employers. Salander's skill is unrivaled, and although she is difficult to deal with socially and often ignores people completely, her genius and intellect lead to discovery by Frode, Vanger's right hand man, when he is impresses by the report Salander was assigned to write on Blomkvist for Vanger.

Vanger suspects that Harriet was murdered by a member of her own family and Blomkvist uses the ruse that he is writing a chronicle of the family so that he can question and interview members of the Vanger family, many of which reside on the very island where Harriet disappeared from in 1966. To make sense of all the various characters, the author includes a family tree to help sort out who's related to who and who is the son/daughter of so-and-so. Blomkvist protests to Vanger that he doesn't think he can make any headway on the decades old case, but Vanger encourages him to simply try. Eventually Blomkvist uncovers new evidence and begins to unravel the mystery. He requests some help in the form of a researcher and is accidently informed of Salander's excellent researching skills via the background report on him. He tracks down Salander, is charmed by her anti-social intellect, and pleads with her to help him. She, puzzled by Blomkvist's kindness towards her, agrees and the pair begin to unravel what really happened to Harriet Vanger.

This book defies certain descriptions. Lisbeth Salander is an amazing female character, very broken in some ways but very capable in others. To get a true sense of why she's such an awesome character, you just need to read this book. The plot in itself is good, at one point I predicted one part of it (and was right to a point) and then it just got turned on it's head when the plot twist occurred. The original title of the book in Swedish translates to "Men Who Hate Women", that should give you an idea about the kind of sick and twisted stuff the characters uncover. Essentially, they connect Harriet's disappearance to a series of horrific murders that took place all over Sweden in the 50s and 60s, all of them involving torture and disfigurement of the victims, really disturbing stuff. The whole misogyny theme pops up quite frequently from interactions with the Vanger family, the murders, and Salander's interactions with her government appointed guardian. It's interesting to see such a portrayal of those themes in a book written by a man, or at least it's surprising to me. All in all, this is a great read, and considering that I can't remember the last time I read a mystery or a crime fiction novel since my Nancy Drew books, that's saying something.

What are you waiting for? Go out and read this! Not for the faint of heart though considering the squick factor involved.

Thoughts on the Cover:
Since I bought the paperback, the cover is very different from the hardcover versions, which focus on the dragon tattoo that Salander has. I almost like this cover better from the others I've seen, the blue, black, and cold/ice images that represent the setting of Hedeby Island where most of the novel takes place.

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