"....few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into [her] heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memories to which, sooner or later - no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover or how much we learn or forget - we will return." -Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was not for me

Galapremiär av The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo i Katrineholm by katrineholmskommunDue to academic pursuits, I have been imprisoned in an ivory tower for these last two months. I was unable to engage in any activity not residing at the bottom of Maslow's triangle, including reading.

After fulfilling my sentence, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, was my first read. Given its popularity, I may not need to justify my selection, but now having read the book, I feel compelled to do so. The first reason I chose this book was that I was at the airport about to board a plane empty-handed, and the airport book store had a limited selection. I was also curious what all the hype was about, and I don't recall ever reading a book set in Sweden.

We quickly learn that our man, a journalist, has been convicted of libel for a story he wrote about a billionaire's shady business dealings. He subsequently leaves his job as publisher of the magazine and accepts a contract position to write the family biography of an aging tycoon. He will also be looking into the disappearance of the tycoon's niece which occurred some decades ago. The job pays handsomely and seems easy enough, so he sets about his work.

There are many layers to what goes on next. The family he is chronicling turns out to be harboring a number of awful secrets, including more than its fair share of Nazis and alcoholics. Some of these secrets just might play into the disappearance and suspected murder of the niece. Through a contrived series of events, our journalist teams up with an unlikely private investigator (who happens to have a dragon tattoo). Their relationship develops into both a professional one, in that they both become obsessed with solving the mystery of the disappearing niece; and a personal (and predictable) one, in that they could be falling in love, or something along those lines.

A couple other themes emerge in the telling: the unmitigated corruption of industry and its leaders, supported by the collusion of investigative journalists; and ethical quandaries faced by writers when they are provided with incendiary material by anonymous sources. 

The mystery is interesting. It spans six decades and involves an intricate web of characters. So, yes, I enjoyed the unraveling of the mystery.  But, the violence in the book is beyond what I wanted to endure. It is too much and it just keeps coming. It is gruesome, happens in unexpected places and frequent. I just kept thinking: please stop!

I've read that Mr. Larsson witnessed an extreme act of violence against a woman when he was young and spent some of his life trying to atone for not helping the victim. I applaud him for bringing the issue of the frequency and severity of violence against women to light, but enough already. 

The characters are the second problem I had with the book. In addition to the journalist and the girl with the dragon tattoo, there are a few other central players. Very few of them are likable, or even interesting. They lack depth and are fairly predictable. 

I can only recommend this book if you don't mind horrific violence, don't care much about characters and enjoy a good mystery. 

The original Swedish title of the book, translated to English, is Men who Hate Women.  This is a far more apt title, given its content. I guess the publishers didn't think American audiences could swallow it. Well, this one couldn't.

Did you like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

Photo Credit: katrineholmskommun

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