I’m always the last one at the party when it comes to hot trends. I don’t jump on the bandwagon—I follow well worn ruts down a deserted highway.
So when I found a battered copy of Stieg Larrson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on vacation this summer, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. This bulky international bestseller seemed like a perfect beach read.
GWTDT wasn’t what I expected. I was anticipating something edgy and raw. (Wasn’t this book made into a movie directed by David Fincher, with music by Trent Reznor?) What I got was a quaint murder mystery that has more in common with Old English Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell whodunnits than “Seven” or “Head Like A Hole.”
There’s a dated feel to this book that belies its copyright. Were girls with tattoos and piercings cutting-edge even a decade ago when Larrson wrote this novel? Today the malls and college campuses are filled with Lisbeth Salander look-a-likes. I think a girl with a dragon tattoo took my application for a bank loan the other day.
An alternate title for this book could be The Editor With The Magnetic Hard-On, based on the way protagonist Mikael Blomkvist attracts the ladies. Indeed, Larrson, a magazine editor and investigative journalist himself (well, before he died in 2004, before his books ever saw print—damn, that’s a bitch!), romanticizes the field of journalism to an embarrassing degree. Blomkvist has the superhuman idealism and incorruptible moral center that make Ayn Rand’s characters so annoying.
There is dark, murderous, incestuous, wickedness here, (though nothing that hasn’t been covered before in the classic noir of James M. Cain or Jim Thompson) but Larrson keeps it carefully hidden for 500 pages. It’s a long wait at times.
Still, there’s a sleepy charm to Larrson’s writing that draws you in and keeps you there. The chilly backdrop of Sweden and remote Hedeby Island is perhaps the most interesting character in this book. Larrson adds complexity layer by layer, and the mystery of Harriet Vanger’s disappearance (you need a scorecard to keep track of all the different Vangers in this book!) builds with clever twists and turns. This is also a tale of white collar crime and corporate greed, themes close the public heart in 2008, when this novel topped the bestseller lists.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo IS a great beach read—though it took me two months to chip away at this 600-page monster! It’s not the dragon tattoo that makes Lisbeth Salander so fascinating. It’s her survival instinct, troubled past, and sullen, kick-ass attitude that makes this slow climb through the Vanger family tree so compelling.