Friday, June 25, 2010

Fit to Be Dyed

On my trip to Philadelphia last week (or whenever it was), I read the Stieg Larsson "phenomenon" The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It's funny; I would say that literally two-thirds of the people on the train were reading either it or the sequel (The Girl Who Played With Fire). It really is one of those collective unconscious things; I found myself trying to hide the cover, as I felt embarrassingly conformist!

(By the way, the author is not to be confused with Gary Larson, who would probably write a book called The Dragon With the Girl Tattoo.)

Actually, I rather liked the book, although I'm not entirely certain why it's become the phenomenon it has. Possibly the real-life saga of the author has something to do with it (Larsson died abruptly at age 50 after delivering three completed manuscripts--the story goes that an elevator was out of order, he took the stairs and, being a heavy smoker, he had a massive heart attack as a result...make of that what you will). He's not a bad writer (although his books are translated from Swedish, which may explain some of the odd phrasing here and there), and spent most of his career writing for the financial press, so he has a very unadorned but functional style. His translator is British, so characters ride in lifts and hide things in the boot of their cars, etc., which I have no problem with.

I have to admit, compelling as it was (and, yes, it did keep me up late one or two nights), it's not a particularly complex story. I was expecting all sorts of twists and turns, and plots within plots, but it's all rather straightforward. (Actually, the things I was expecting may make for a more compelling thriller!) I was also expecting the two parallel plot threads--the corporate malfeasance and the family murder--to turn out to be linked in some way, and--spoiler alert-- they are not. And Mr. Evil--Wennerström--doesn't even make an actual appearance in the book. One would have liked some kind of confrontation between Mikael Blomkvist (the co-protagonist of the book) and his nemesis, but nothing doing, although Wennerström gets a great comeuppance; would that all the financial scumbags and Bernie Madoffs of the world got the same.

And the opening scene--elderly Henrik Vanger gets a mysterious flower on his birthday, as he has for 40-odd years--is a bit of a grabber, but at the end, I couldn't can't help but wonder, "He couldn't have figured that out ages ago?"

The other protagonist--she with the titular tattoo--Lisbeth Salander, is a well-drawn character, although the speed with which she bonds with Blomkvist seems a bit too facile, given her fundamental antisociability (I'm being vague to avoid spoilers). They don't meet until halfway through the book, so maybe a bit more set up would have made the relationship a little more realistic. Still, she's a great character, and you root for her even when she's doing something unspeakably horrible, because the people she's doing it to are the scum of the Earth. (The original Swedish title is Män som hatar kvinnor which means "Men Who Hate Women," which is apt, but probably a bit less commercial and cryptic.)

And with all the Swedish names and places, it's very easy to get umlaut fatigue. I am still seeing dots before my eyes. Or above them, actually.

I wonder, if the author had survived, and the book had been properly edited and perhaps bits of it rewritten, if it would have been a lot better. But even if it doesn't quite live up to its hype (but then what does?), it's at least a million times better than anything Dan Brown ever wrote, so it has that going for it.

So, it's ta ta to the tattoo; I just started the second book, so we shall see.

The Saratoga Film Forum showed the Swedish film adaptation last month, so maybe when it comes out on DVD I shall rent it. I can only imagine what Hollywood will do to it.

But then, maybe I like the Fountains of Wayne song better.


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