In Which a Reader of Young Adult and Fantasy Crashes into a Sweedish Mystery Thriller
I tend to avoid harsh (realistic), contemporary fiction. This is a fairly new development for me (at least four years new). I fondly recall the days when I could sit through an action flick and simply enjoy it. I could read whatever I wanted to without being overwhelmed with fear, sympathy or angst.
Then, I had a baby. The moment I became a mommy, action movies became too graphic. Novels that never fazed me are hyper violent or too gritty. My “sensitive” switch is flipped and all the action I used to watch without a second thought to suddenly evolved into the brutalization of innocents. It makes me glance at my children and throw the book/movie into the “maybe someday” pile.
Despite all that, I picked up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It’s set in modern Sweden and revolves around reporter Mikael Blomkvist and hacker/researcher Lisbeth Salander as they attempt to solve a 40 year old murder.
I should have known better.
Getting “in to” the novel was a trial in and of itself. I almost didn’t progress past the initial chapter. It was so disjointed and out of context I had no interest in figuring out what was going on. I made no connections to any of the characters and I had no interest in what was going on until Mikael was (FINALLY) hired to investigate the old mystery.
Now, the good part! The murder mystery part of the novel was fanFREAKINGtastic. I loved the modern look on a murder from 40 years ago–all done through records, photographs and memorabilia from the time. The mystery itself was unique, twisted and intriguing; I found myself pinning the crime on character after character and most of the “suspects” from the crime were still alive and bitter about the investigation. Even the environment of the mystery was tantalizing–it was a locked environment–no way in or out while the murder was committed, so the list of potential suspects was limited by locale. In that respect, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is a top notch whodunit with a “what the hell is going on” scenario.
End Good Part.
Yes, that’s pretty much all I liked. The writing was so formal and detached that I couldn’t connect with any of the characters. Even when they were depressed or thrilled or afraid, the writing never let me feel that with them – it was like watching a dry documentary rather than being immersed in a thriller. I don’t know if that formality was a product of translation or simply how modern business/political thrillers are written. I don’t care which – it just sucked.
The detached writing combined with the characters themselves prohibited any form of connection or identification with either (any) of them. Heavy medication might be the only way to make Lisbeth likable (for me, not her). She is antisocial to the point of disbelief. She is brilliant and certain parts of her character are awesome, but her actions, her choices, and even her speech drive me away from her. I couldn’t identify with more than a couple of her decisions. I’m betting she has a horrific back story that explains exactly why she is the way she is, but I don’t know it, the author didn’t bother to tell me about it, and frankly, I can’t bring myself to care enough about her to continue the trilogy to figure it out.
The other main character, Mikael, the reporter, is not as unlikeable as Lisabeth, but he’s certainly no charmer. He carries on the long-standing affair (fling type thing) that ruined his marriage. He maintains that relationship while sleeping with other women – some the same age as his daughter and comes across as a crappy Casanova. None of the charm or looks, just the luck to fall into the sack with a bunch of chics. And while all of his relationships are consensual, they are treated with a callous casualness that I don’t get. Maybe I’m just an American with my frowning puritan background instead of a more cosmopolitan view of sexual conduct. Maybe, it’s because I grew up with the looming threat of AIDS and the idea of casual sexual partners scares me. Either way, it’s just one more thing between me and liking this guy.
Beyond Mikael’s sexcapades, there is an onslaught of sexual violence. Wikipedia suggests that Larson initially named his novel “Men who Hate Women.” That is a way more accurate title – at least it gives a hint about what you’re about to read. Various women in the novel are raped, tortured and murdered – usually in direct succession. Some of the incidents are described in graphic detail. Others are left to the imagination – but all are horrific. The book essentially becomes a trifecta of rape, incest and torture.
This book should appeal to readers who enjoy gritty realism. But that’s not me. Books like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” are a huge part of the reason why I stick to escapist fantasy and sci-fi.
In the end, I stamp this book with a two canary rating for the formal, emotionally-removed writing, the unapproachable characters and the proliferation of rape/sexual assault that was graphic enough to make me consider home-schooling my kids to keep them out of the scary world. I will not be making it to the 2nd novel – much less the third.
I’ll stay with my Young Adult, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Romance, and Light Comedy reading agenda. Stepping outside my comfort zone made me lose sleep while checking on my kids.
What do you think, Canaries?