The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book's original title in Swedish was Men Who Hate Women. The English title is catchier, but the Swedish one better describes its content.
I'm glad I was warned that the first 40 to 50 pages are slow moving. In fact, the last 50 pages or so move slowly as well. Many people have commented that the books get better as they go along. It seems that Larsson was just beginning to hit his stride when he died.
The book opens with a libel suit against journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Parallel runs the story of Lisbeth Salander, the dragon-tattooed "girl." Salander is by far the most interesting enigma in the book--some have called her an avenging feminist angel. We know that she is a damaged soul, but we have mere glimpses into why that is the case.
Blomkvist appears to be married to his work, with a failed marriage behind him and a loose relationship with his married colleague. Admittedly, he is a "bad father."
Here's what I didn't like about this book:
-Horrific, brutal scenes of violence against women
-Most of the meat was sandwiched between the less-interesting beginning and end of the book
-Too many Vangers, most of which do not matter to the story
-The fact that Blomkvist hops in bed with three different women--all of whom seduce him but require no commitment (talk about a male fantasy!)
-The high percentage of sexual sadists in the story--how realistic is that?
-The fact that Salander is so helpless to stop her own victimization (being a ward of the state)--can't she hack her way out of that?
-Not happy about another middle-aged man/young-woman-who-looks-like-a-child relationship--again, Larsson's fantasy?
And this is what I liked:
-Lisbeth Salander--I wanted to know more about what makes her tick
-The story--it drew me in and I wanted to know how it would end
-The fact that Blomkvist reads female authors (and Larsson himself cited mostly female authors when asked about his literary influences--this is extremely rare among male writers and readers!)
-Statistics about violence against women in Sweden--Larsson was trying to write his own morality tales in the form of thrillers about men who hate women
-The creative ways Salander finds to get her revenge on men who have wronged her or other women
-The gray areas--people are not good or bad, and difficult ethical situations are not always clear-cut right or wrong--I enjoy reading about difficult ethical decisions
-The stark Swedish setting and descriptions of its climate, food, and people
-Discussion of how violent or abusive childhoods can shape a person's humanity and the way they see the world
Some feinists claim the series is misogynist, while others defend it. Knowing that the author was a political crusader and fought against fascism (in addition to being in a 32-year, long-term committed relationship with a woman, unlike his main character), I am sure he had good intentions. What I like best about Larsson's heroine (who is vastly more interesting to me than his hero) is that she is fascinating and strong. I read that she gets breast implants in Book #2, which does not delight me. She is a complicated character and I look forward to seeing how she develops in the next two books.
I'm hooked and I've already ordered the next two books. It's certainly not a perfect first novel, but it was a rollicking good start.
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Sadly, Larsson's partner of over 32 years--and first-time reader and editor--stands to receive none of the millions of dollars in royalties, because they never married and he did not have an updated will.