Another in my occasional book review series - it’s not that I haven’t been reading but that the books have been high number books in on-going series or similar.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is an odd book. Given it’s been in print for 12 years and there have been two films made of it, I’m going to risk some more spoilers than usual to discuss why, while also talking about the book itself.
While this pretends to be a work of fiction, it is actually a kind of modern parable, and one based (partially or fully) in Larsson’s personal experiences in life and as a reporter.
To my mind, this shows through in the writing. There is a plot which would suit a novel, and fits comfortably into ScandiNoir. A rich industrialist’s niece was killed in the 1960’s in a kind of locked-room mystery that has defeated, and haunted, him and the police ever since. This is not helped by the fact that most of the likeliest suspects are family members - and his family includes Nazi activists and the like so his suspicions are well founded. As his death looms, he hires an outsider, an apparently disgraced financial journalist, to have a last look at the case. The journalist has had a background check performed by the titular girl with the dragon tattoo but they eventually end up working together to solve this crime and more or less incidentally the alleged libel that initially disgraced the journalist.
All of this is fundamentally ok. The story is quite dark, very dark in places, but there are oddities. In places there are intricate, unnecessary detail - Lisbeth Salander is a hacker and her laptop gets run over at one point. Hearing the specs of what was, undoubtedly for the time (15+ years ago), a top of the line laptop is now risible. My iPad is nearly that powerful and the specs are honestly unnecessary detail. There are places that I feel, if I ever went there, I would have a strong sense of déjà vu they are so well described. At the same time, there are scenes (some of them, like a rape scene I’m pleased about, others, like a walk and talk which are as significant or insignificant as the laptop) where really I’ve given you as much detail as there is in the book. And it’s bloody annoying!! Two exclamation marks annoying.
The other thing that is clear, and that I’ve hinted at by suggesting this is less a novel than a parable, is that Larsson has a moral, or several in fact, and he is on a crusade to make his readers agree with him. Given his topics are that there is a terribly high level of sexual abuse of women and something must be done™, that the rich can get away with crimes more easily than the poor and are not usually scrutinised as closely simply because they’re rich and that Nazi and NeoNazi activists are a blight on society it’s hard to disagree with his crusades. Nevertheless it’s an odd mashup at times, for example, I was moving along, apparently reading a novel and suddenly there were several pages of polemic about the way Sweden treats those adults it regards as not competent to make decisions for themselves but not incompetent enough to require full time care. While it was interesting, in and of itself, it felt really out of place in a novel, at least to me. There were other such excursions and diversions where the writing style was more that of a campaigning journalist than a novelist.
Despite all of these reservations, and there are many it has to be said, I should also say, in the interests of fairness and balance, I read The Girl With The Dragon avidly, falling asleep reading it far too late on several occasions. I no longer actually turn pages made of paper but this book qualifies as a page turner where the good does significantly outweigh the bad. I’m not sure it does so sufficiently to make me buy the next book in the series at full price though.
Not everyone will like this book. It should come with trigger warnings (and it doesn’t). It’s less ScandiNoir, more ScandiPitchBlack. It ends with moral quandaries left, right and centre that leaves the book without a happy ending. I’m ok with that personally although, again, I’m sure not everyone will be.
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