Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Report from Maggie’s No.1 Book Group

Well, they all loved it! And this is a problem. We really have our best discussions when we disagree, or dislike a book. I was perhaps the only one who got a little bored in the middle of the book. But that didn’t stop me turning the pages with hungry anticipation. I describe reading this novel, as something like eating a ham sandwich. It has a meaty content, enclosed in a light white bread with a good spread of Colman’s ready-mix mustard, satisfying, highly digestible, and more-ish.

The novel opens with a prologue centred on an intriguing botanical detail related to the Australian bush, and even New Zealand gets a mention. For almost forty years, since the disappearance of his niece Harriet, eighty-two year old Harald Vanger of Sweden has been receiving an anonymous gift each year, of a framed and pressed flower. The latest such gift, appears to originate from Australia. This tantalising detail is, if not forgotten, then somewhat overshadowed by the sheer breadth and depth of the rest of the novel and although there is some symmetry near the end, we all agreed, this particular, fascinating detail, almost got swamped.

We enter the novel actual, with a rip-roaring political/corporate/journalistic stoush of epic proportions commencing with the libel case against Mikael Blomkvist of the magazine Millennium. Blomkvist, as he is called, is the hero of the novel and much of his focus on corporate and political greed and misdeeds appears to reflect the author’s own life as a journalist and political activist. Author Stieg Larsson, who died at age fifty is described by Christopher MacLehose in ‘Note about the Author’ on the Borders.com.au website - “He had done everything that any one man could do to expose, document and turn back the resurgence of neo fascism in his native Sweden.”

For me the masterstroke by Stieg Larsson is having a waif-like-punk anti-heroine – Lisbeth Salander who is an expert computer code cracker and private investigator, somewhat autistic and with a dark past we have yet to uncover (the next book?). She even overshadows Blomkvist to earn the empathy and loyalty of the reader, their loyalty, and at times, admiring disapproval for her vengeful, no, her re-vengeful plans plots and achievements. For me, some of this is pandering too much to the baser instincts in all of us for revenge and I got bored, but it would be a strange reader who didn’t revel in the last few pages when Salander travels in disguise redistributing money (don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone)… needless to say, if you love justice, revenge and intrigue, this book has it all. And for those of us who are a teensy bit diffident about technology and security, if you read this book, block your ears, or stop using your computer. Cancel your Face Book page now.

But yes, I got bored with the Vanger family in their lake-side enclave and their incestuous weirdness and the detours we took looking for Harriet. I didn’t like some of the revelations and would have preferred Mr Larsson to have stuck to the corporate and political stage. But having said this, one can’t help thinking of the ghastly “Fritz” in Austria and the political and/or social climate that allows this sort of thing to go unnoticed.

Some of us found the sexual relationship between Blomkvist and his boss, the editor of Millennium somewhat bloodless and perplexing, but Larsson’s handling of Blomkvist’s sexual escapades was interesting for its volubility but lack of actual detail and the casual sporting sort of approach to relationships, apart from the more sensual and possibly erotic beginnings of his attraction to Salander.

It is also interesting to think about the political and social climate in Sweden that allows for a young woman like Salander (yes I know it’s fiction), to be under such strict guardianship – enabling, or at least allowing the abuse that occurred to her, followed by the salaciously satisfying revenge she extracted (or should I say that she engraved!).

My smart book group highlighted the near cliché of the Australian binary role – admiring it at the same time as perhaps chuckling a little at how easy it is to juxtapose the archetypical Swedish conservative psyche and colder landscape with the sprawling mythical untamed Australian image. But I won’t spoil the plot.

Have I piqued your interest? It’s an absolute page-turner and it seems obvious with Mr Larsson’s intriguing journalistic background and focus on human rights, that much of the stuff he writes about is more than likely not as far from fact as we would like to imagine. I think that’s why I would have preferred for him to stay within the political corporate arena and I could safely shake my head in disbelief but not be affected to the extent that I was by the terrible secrets of the Vagner family and their not so secret Nazi sympathies.

It’s a who-dunnit with bells and whistles… It’s been a long while since I read something in this sort of genre and I can see I need to lighten up and sit back, relax and enjoy more of it. You never know, I may just read the second one. I really do like Salander and if Blomkvist can just shake off Erika - she really is spoiling his chances of forming lasting relationships…. Well, I’m not really a sequel kind of girl, but you never know… As you can see, Mr Larsson is a grand storyteller. And there’s all that money to spend!

Thanks for this Maggie's No.1 Book Group. I agree with your findings and made it my crime fiction novel of the year for 2008. Read other accolades from my blog last year.

Since then of course The Girl Who Played with Fire has been published and I reckon the second in the trilogy is even better than the first. This may be because Salander is the principal character this time and she is so much more interesting than Blomkvist.
My review of the second title should be in the Sunday Star Times this coming Sunday.

And the final title in the trilogy is due in November.Bring it on!

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