Friday, December 31, 2010

Reading Rainbow: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Inconsiderate Prick Announcement:  This post is coming right before the post of a new series I intend to kick off here entitled The Queue Continuum in which I give at least a quick response to something on the old Netflix Instant Queue, which I'd imagine many of you frequenters also have access to.  Predictably, the first entrant in The Queue Continuum looks to be the Swedish film adaptation of this very novel, which I watched last week.  

I may use that space to open up this space to a few more writers, but I haven't really decided on that yet nor have I really approached anyone about this.  You guys probably know who you are, if you see this before I get a chance to talk to you about it, give me a shout/drop me a line.

Despite the fact that we haven't actually met or had a "club" meeting, I sort of read this for an impromptu book club.  That isn't to say that I didn't want to read it or hadn't bought it over a year ago, but my desire to read it was met with an approximately equal amount of reticence to pick up something that to me had the same off-putting buzz that The Da Vinci Code had.  If that many people are reading something, it can't be good, right?

What made things worse was the fact that every time I was reading the book in public, someone would invariably walk by me every 20 minutes or so and say, "Oh, I loved that book."  Rarely was this person someone who struck me as a reader.  Is it dickish of me to say this?  Yes.  Let me refer you to the name of this site.  I will simply say that I felt far less self-conscious reading the Grace Kelly bio that I had finished just before this (write-up still to come!) than when I was reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo out in the open. 

Having gotten those qualifiers out of the way, the book was all right.  It was certainly a page turner.  Well, the last 350 pages were. While I wouldn't say Larsson's slow open is an insurmountable obstacle, complaints about how nothing happens for the first 200 pages or so are not groundless.  There is a lot of exposition and even more character development that could probably be compressed a bit.  For the purposes of this novel at the very least, there are multiple characters that are fleshed out much more than they need to be (I'm looking at you Dragan Armansky).

The third-person omniscient narration is probably a misstep at least as much as genre is concerned, as selective insight as to what secondary characters are thinking makes for an unbalanced tale and it does not work for the crime/mystery genre.  Why, for instance, do we know what Nils Bjurman is thinking throughout the scenes he appears in while the same treatment is not given to other characters like Cecilia or Martin Vanger?  Why are we shown how evil one character is while we are left to guess with others (although it is the inverse of this relation that is more troubling from a narrative standpoint)?

It also isn't a particularly surprising novel.  It never felt like plot points came from out of nowhere to surprise you.  Harriet's fate seemed obvious to this reader from the start, and frankly this was at the instant Henrik propositions Mikael.  It was, in short, predictable.

Larsson's failure to balance the two mysteries is truly the root of the problems with the novel.  With two puzzles needing solving, he is ultimately unable to balance the progress toward the respective resolutions well, which leads to roughly 150 pages of arguably needless and certainly excessive exposition for a mystery that then mostly disappears until page 490 or so.  When a book is as easy a read as this, it is not impossible to get past this, but the lack of balance to the two narrative thrusts is problematic. 

What does work and ultimately can be seen as the novel's redeeming quality are the lead characters, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.  Each character is intriguing enough to want to go along on their journey, and upon being brought together, they play well off of one another despite their disparate personalities.  While the novel probably would have been better served without their eventual (read: inevitable) romantic involvement, their relationship still works, and Larsson allows for the bittersweet coda that would not have been in the cards otherwise. 

Again, the book is an easy read.  For all its shortcomings--and there are plenty--The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is fairly decent.  Whether or not its decided average-ness calls into question its massive worldwide success is another matter entirely, but that really distracts from the point of this exercise.

1 comment:

Young Man Duggan said...

I only saw the movie, but I gathered it did a good job of not excluding segments of the story that often get skipped when American studios get their hands on projects like this.

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