Four days. A new Sorry Television record.
I was unquestionably aided in this week’s reading endeavor by the Thanksgiving holiday, which right now means I wish I had brought an extra pair of stretchy pants but a day or so ago meant hours of uninterrupted reading time, thwarted only occasionally by my mother’s well-intentioned attempts to initiate conversation–attempts I rebuffed by grunting monosyllabic replies from behind my paperback. Because aren’t endless solitary hours of quiet reading time what Thanksgiving is really all about?
And certainly, I had the right book in hand. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has plenty of simultaneous compelling plots (to the point that after what was arguably the book’s major reveal, I was surprised to find there were still another 100 pages of denouement) and manages to cover the familiar crime-fiction territory of murder and intrigue without seeming stale. The book follows main character Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative reporter and magazine editor who early on is charged with libel and consequently resigns his magazine post to spend a year in self-imposed exile, writing a family history for affable Swedish captain of industry Henrik Vanger, who has given Blomkvist the simultaneous (and more important) task of finding out what happened to a female family member that disappeared 30 years earlier. Along the way Mikael joins forces with Lisbeth Salander, a 20-something hacker and the famed owner of said dragon tattoo.
For a crime novel, “Dragon Tattoo” gets off to a slow start, which in retrospect I think has something to do with Larsson having written and submitted all three novels at once–200 pages of exposition seems less excessive in the context of three 700-page paperbacks than one. But the relationships so thoroughly established in the beginning–between Blomkvist and his colleague/longtime lover Erika Berger, between Salander and her employer, between Henrik Vanger and Blomkvist–prove relevant in the rest of the story, and in a way the time devoted to each person’s character makes the plot’s “whodunit” elements that much more compelling. Still, I would say the story truly picks up a little before the halfway point, and the last 100 pages have as much excitement as the first 400 combined.
The book has its strong points: The setting, primarily in Sweden, is somewhat refreshing after reading countless books centered around American cities. The language and dialogue are accessible and realistic, which I consider something of a feat since the book was translated. And Larsson has no compunction about graphic descriptions of crimes, sexual or otherwise, which I feel is probably necessary in a world where you can see mutilated corpses on prime time television. None of the characters are 100% likable, and despite Blomkvist’s propensity for sexual partners, even the typical boy-meets-girl plot lines are less than formulaic. All in all–and isn’t this the true barometer for reading in New York–I’d read this openly on the subway.
Despite its strengths, “Dragon Tattoo” is not a hugely special book. Outside of the book’s novel setting–which is mostly a byproduct of the author’s nationality–and pairing of corporate intrigue with good old-fashioned murder, this is little more than a run-of-the-mill crime novel, though certainly an admirable debut from Stieg Larsson, who was not otherwise a fiction writer. But here’s the thing about crime novels: Say what you will about their caliber of prose or depth of thought, but few other books can make you stay up until 3 a.m. eating leftover pumpkin pie while promising to read “just one more chapter.” Few other books give you the kind of “Aha!” moment usually associated with movies or episodes of “CSI.” And for that reason alone, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a rewarding read, the kind of book that reminds me of getting neck cramps from sitting in one position too long, of highly anticipated childhood trips to the library, of passing the anxious hours of Christmas Eve by devouring young-adult novels until 4 a.m. It reminds me of how reading isn’t always intellectual or challenging or thought-provoking; sometimes it’s just plain old exciting.
TITLE: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
AUTHOR: Stieg Larsson
PAGES: 644 (in paperback)
ALSO WROTE: “The Girl who Played with Fire,” “The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”
SORTA LIKE: “Silence of the Lambs” meets “The Firm”
FIRST LINE: “It happened every year, was almost a ritual.”