Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium#01)
Author: Stieg Larrson
Genre: Thriller/Mystery
Rating: ★★★★

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AN UNHEALTHY OBSESSION- this is how the majority of the wealthy Vanger family describes Henrik’s unyielding search for the truth about his niece Harriet, who vanished almost four decades ago. Financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist, although freshly convicted of libel, is hired to investigate. Aided by a punk hacker-slash-hardboiled P.I. Lisbeth Salander, he digs into the family’s skeleton-full of cupboards and discovers more than what he is searching.

This is Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: a noir crime fiction that does not only revolve around a murky murder/disappearance case but also paints a portrait of Sweden with all shades of black and grey.

One of the things I liked the best in this novel is the top-notch world-building. Through Larsson’s unembellished prose I was instantly transported to Sweden, and although it was no tourist’s holiday, I enjoyed the trip immensely.  If you are squeamish and want to read this book, you better get prepared for the things that can possibly give you a bad case of vertigo: lots of rape, sadism, torture, and other incredibly harrowing stuff that happens to women (which makes me think the original title Men Who Hate Women is more appropriate). Needless to say, the descriptions are grotesquely effective. These—plus a couple of dirty snapshots of the Swedish business scene—added to the solidity of the dark setting.

While the world-building is ace, I cannot say the same for characterization of the male protagonist. Mikael Blomkvist reads half-baked to me—a character prematurely taken out from the writing oven, that is. I cannot picture him as a fully-realized person for the most part. His Practical Pig complex, stubborn naivety, and strong moral code (okay, and propensity to magnetize almost every woman to his bed) are a few of his attributes that Larsson did not successfully take to the final stage of character-molding. I think he would have been a great character if Larsson did not write him as his glossed-over fictional alter ego of some sort. That only made him a small step shy from being a Gary Stu. Fortunately another protagonist exists, and that’s our titular ‘girl with the dragon tattoo’: Lisbeth Salander.

It’s no secret that I have a weakness for well-written antiheroines, and Lisbeth is the newest addition to the roster. A taciturn 25-year-old punk prodigy, Lisbeth is both a heroine and a victim. With her tattoos, piercings, and the ‘mentally ill’ label she received in court, it is so easy to pigeonhole her. As much as she wants to show that she doesn’t care about others’ low opinion on her, deep inside all she ever wanted to be is someone who is not judged and laughed at. Unlike Blomkvist, she understands that ‘the raptors of the world speak only one language,’ and throughout the novel it is shown she is driven by the fuel of revenge. Somehow, I loved her slightly off-kilter version of justice and her way of achieving it. It talks so much about her past, which is not entirely revealed in this book. I am hoping to see more of it in the sequels.

The book is wonderfully plotted, but my interest fluctuates throughout the story. It took me a while to get through the first two parts (Incentive and Consequence Analyses) mainly because of two things: the plot doesn’t charge along at the speed I expected from a suspense/thriller book, and the Vanger clan is a confusing web—it’s hard to remember who’s who, despite the detailed table and family tree that Larsson provided. Honestly I was tempted more than once to stop reading and move on to other books. I am glad I didn’t. The plot picked up speed when Blomkvist and Salander met, and from that moment on I was glued to my seat, refusing to put the book down.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I actually liked how it ended:  “Millennium’s Revenge.” I did not ace my Business and Economic Writing class when I was still studying journalism, but I enjoyed how the Millennium staff turned the tables on financial gangster Wennerstrom just with the possession of the right information, causing a domino reaction in Sweden’s field of banking and business. I also liked the ethical dilemmas Blomkvist and the rest ofMillennium faced: how can you report objectively about the Vanger Corporation if they are a part-owner of your magazine? Isn’t there a conflict of interests? Would you still publish this old rape story with the consequences of immortalizing the ghost of the victim’s past in print, when all that she really wants to do is forget it? Which would you choose, your role of being a public servant or your role as a human being?

I reiterate, almost half of this behemoth of a book I did not entirely enjoy, but the parts that did, they blew me away like no other suspense books I have encountered before. Giving it 3 or 3.5 stars seemed a tad too criminal because when I turned the last page, I was extremely satisfied that I was actually contemplating to buy the second book that moment.  So yes, I’m giving this four stars. Can’t wait to read The Girl Who Played with Fire!

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