I first knew The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo as the book written by that dead Swedish guy. Which is actually how people have put it at the Bookstore: “I’m looking for that book by the dead Swedish guy.” In fairness, I’m sure there are lots of fine works of fiction or non-fiction by now dead Swedish guys, but honestly? There’s only one dead Swedish author people care about lately: Stieg Larsson.
His death also explains why the author photo on the book is so awful.
Larsson was a left-wing Swedish journalist who began writing mysteries as a hobby. He finished three, and was midway through the fourth (of a projected ten-book cycle) when he died at the age of fifty, in 2004. Titled Män som hatar kvinnor in the original Swedish, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo won a prestigious Glass Key Award. It was first published in the UK in January 2008, and in the U.S. that September.
The book follows protagonists Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged disgraced journalist, Lisbeth Salander, a prodigy hacker, through an Agatha Christie style-mystery: the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a member of a wealthy industrial family, from an isolated island. In addition, there’s a subplot about how exactly Blomkvist went about becoming disgraced, and Salander’s experiences with the Swedish judicial system.
I was at first more than a little reluctant to pick this book up — although I heard lots of great stuff about it, my last experience with a translated Swedish book, Henning Mankell’s The White Lioness, left a sour taste in my mouth (and mind). I eventually caved to pressure, and picked up a paperback copy last weekend. How much did I like it?
The book is 590 pages. I began reading it Monday morning, and I finished it Thursday afternoon, while still working eight hours each day at my Office job, while working three evenings at my part-time job, and while drinking copiously at a farewell party for departing Office mates Tuesday night. On top of all of that, I still managed six hours of sleep a night. I guess what I’m saying is — it’s a real page turner.
Also, I read really fast.
The book is not perfect. There are sections which drag, because Larsson lectures about aspects of Sweden’s guardianship system, and sometimes the translation seems sloppy: for example, a romantic interest refers to Blomkvist as a “toy boy” about a third of the way in (pg. 208, if you must know). However, these faults are easily overlooked — the book is sometimes haunting and spooky, sometimes terrifying, and on occasion, tender and warm hearted. For me, the real satisfaction from the book didn’t come from the resolution of the mystery of Harriet Vanger plot-line, but of Blomkvist’s redemption (which, of course, is tied in with the Vanger plot).
While reading the book, and being more and more aware of the book’s success (the only author to outsell Larsson in 2008? Khaled Hosseini), I feel such an incredible sense of loss for Mr. Larsson. Goodness knows, when I think about “what I want to be when I grow up”, I can remember being in a bookstore as a kid, running my hand along the spines of books, and thinking, “All I want to do is write and publish a book.” I wonder if Mr. Larsson had that same dream? It really is too bad that he died without seeing his works in print, but I guess that’s the artist’s lament, isn’t it? No one knows who you are until you’re dead.
Okay, shake it off. I hope the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, is just as captivating. It was released this past Tuesday, and I picked up a copy. If it’s as good as I hope it is, I won’t wait for the American publication of the third book — The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest — I’ll order it from Amazon.uk: it’s being published in England October 1st.
Interestingly, the books have already gotten the movie treatment, and the first was released in Europe this spring. The Swedish trailer is here.