Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire

By Stieg Larsson
New York, Vintage Books, 2005, 2006.

Week 21 Fiction

As a disclaimer, I need to say that I first read these books last summer and absolutely fell in love with them. When I mentioned them to my book club, everyone wanted to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. So, it was the topic of this month's gathering, and I re-read the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, for this week's blog as well. They are as fascinating to read a second time as they were the first with less confusion over the Swedish names and the myriad of characters that must not deter you as you begin the adventure.

Stieg Larsson was a Swedish journalist who delivered three novels to his publisher in 2004 just before he abruptly died of a heart attack. The final novel, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, is being published next week, and I will be getting it from Amazon as soon as it is released.

These are very complex mysteries with several themes, and the two main characters are just as complex. Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist and publisher of a liberal magazine, Millennium. (In many ways, his character is Stieg Larsson's alter ego--their careers run parallel.) Lisbeth Salander is the other main character in all three books, and complex is too simple a word to describe her. She is a computer hacker, has a photographic memory, and has too many personality problems to describe in a one page review. However these two characters are what move these mysteries beyond the ordinary. The author of the New York Times review of The Girl Who Played with Fire describes it best. “Salander and Blomkvist transcend their genre and insinuate themselves in the reader’s mind through their oddball individuality, their professional competence, and surprisingly, their emotional vulnerability.”

The themes that run through the novels are financial improprieties, child abuse, neo-Nazism, the sex trade, and computer hacking, murder, and sadism—fun things like that. However, the books are so engrossing that one becomes accepting of the ugliness. Frankly, it is interesting to look at Sweden from this standpoint, because these are generally not the topics that we think we know about Sweden. A New York Times Magazine article says, “In fact, not the least of the attractions of the books for American readers is that they introduce us to a Sweden that is vastly different from the bleak, repressed, guilt-ridden images we see in Ingmar Bergman movies and from the design-loving Socialist paradise we imagine whenever we visit Ikea. It’s a country that turns out to be a lot like our own.”

Larsson named the first book, Men Who Hate Women, which when you know that, casts the entire book in a different light than when it was re-named The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the United States. The new title makes the reader more conscious of Lisbeth Salander as the main character and less conscious of the topic of the harm committed against women, which then becomes just one of the underlying themes.

Most people that I have spoken to who have read The Dragon Tattoo complained about the first hundred pages being difficult to get through, but after they got beyond the set-up, they became so engrossed that they read it in one or two sittings. I found the Girl Who Played with Fire to be an easier read, perhaps because I knew all the main characters. In this volume, Lisbeth plays a much more significant role, and there is more action and a dramatic, though gruesome, finale.

Some friends have seen the Swedish movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which is playing the art houses this spring. It comes out on DVD in July. Hollywood is going to make its own version of the book in 2012.

Now, I just have to wait a few days to get my hands on The Girl Who Kicked Up a Hornet’s Nest.

Here is the New York Times review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:

And the review of The Girl Who Played with Fire:

Also Stieg Larsson’s Website:

I just found a fascinating article that is appearing in the New York Times Magazine this weekend. It is called "The Afterlife of Stieg Larsson."

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