Monday, October 19, 2009

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson - 608 pgs

Book CoverMikael Blomkovist has just been sentenced to prison for libel. Blomovist, part owner of the financial magazine Millennium, watches his prospects slowly swirl away from him after his disastrous attempt to uncover the shady secrets of industry leader Heins Erick Wennerstrom. Unexpectedly, Blomkovist is contacted by the distinguished Heinrik Vanger, a rich and influential businessman who wants to offer him a deal. The deal is this: If Blomkovist agrees to investigate the mystery of the disappearance of Vanger's niece, who has been missing for 36 years, Vanger will help Blomkovist out of the hole he finds himself in and will sweeten the deal with the real goods on Wenerstrom. Though at first reluctant, Blomkovist agrees to work on the Vanger disappearance, if only to have another shot at the Wenerstrom affair. Lisbeth Salander, an exceptional computer hacker afflicted with Asperger's syndrome, will eventually find her way into Blomkovist's investigation as an unlikely partner, and as the two begin to uncover secret after secret about the disappearance of Harriet, they will discover a series of violent and sadistic unsolved crimes that will threaten both their lives and their investigation.

This book was an unusual choice for me. I normally don't read suspense/thriller novels, but after hearing so much praise lavished on this series of books, I decided to put my prejudices aside and read the book. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that this book was not really for me. First of all, it took an extremely long time for there to be even a hint of action in the story. For the first few hundred pages, the story revolved around court cases, Swedish finances, and elaborate descriptions of the Vanger family's complex history. I kept wading through all this because I knew there was a story to be found here eventually, but the amount of exposition on the business world was overwhelming. Though I tried really hard not to gloss over all these sections, it was very difficult for me to stay focused and hang on until the grist of the story actually started, and though I was eventually rewarded, I found that the actual bones of the story were not as original and stunning as everyone had made them out to be. Though there were some unique elements in the narrative, I found the story and the revelations to be pretty common and not much to write home about. In fact, I had figured out the main mystery of the story pretty early on, and though there were a few surprises, there weren't really any jaw dropping moments or times when I felt that something extraordinary was being done.

I am assuming that the main reason that this book got so much praise is because of the fact that it is more literary than other books in it's genre, and also for the inclusion of Lisbeth Salander. I will admit that Salander was pretty much the only bright spot in the story. It was really interesting to read about her and the life she created for herself despite her affliction. Though she was pretty uncommunicative and antisocial, she seemed to have a heightened awareness of social injustices and went to great lengths to mete out retribution to those perpetrators that she felt were deserving of punishment. Her demeanor was usually chilly, but underneath the gears were churning and there were complex stratagems being devised within her. Her paranoia in dealing with the world at large, especially anyone in a position of authority, was something that made her character really unique in a book like this, and the sections dealing with her history were some of the more robust and complex sections in the book. I found that the sections focusing on Salander were too few and far between, and it was clear from the way the book was arranged that the fundamentals on Salander were included in the story more as exposition for later books in the series than to satisfy the readers curiosity or flesh out the story.

One of the main things that annoyed me about this book was the ridiculous amount of detail that the author included in his descriptions. It was not enough that someone bought a particular brand of computer, he need to go into all the specs, the color, the size, how much it cost, and on and on. This would not have been a problem if it had happened, say, once or twice in the book. Instead it was everywhere, and it really detracted from smooth reading. I got so fed up with all the minuscule details and began to feel that the book would have been much more readable and enjoyable had things been a bit more concise. The details were not only furnished for electronic devices, but for almost every situation, from the multi-paged descriptions of the Vanger family history to the mind numbing repetition of the research done for the investigation into Harriett's disappearance. I thought that it was a shame to waste so much word space on these lengthy trivial details and wished that an editor had been a bit more engaged with the book.

I have read my share of suspense/thrillers, and from what I could tell, there was not much differentiation between those books and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Though I am quite sure that I am in the minority in my reactions to this book, I do think I gave it a fair shake and tried to read it without a host of preconceived notions cluttering my mind. I am not willing to go so far as to say that this was a bad book, because I do think that people who like this genre would really be impressed with it. For me it was not a groundbreaking read that I found breathtaking or thrilling, which is how it had been presented to me. There were a few aspects of the book that I thought were very well done, but overall, I think this story lacked the originality and punch that I had been expecting to find.

13 comments:

Suko said...

It sounds as if your expectations for this book were extremely high, and that you were let down somewhat. Too much hype can ruin a book for you!

As for me, I thought the book was very exciting. I read and reviewed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in May of 2009. I do not read that many thrillers, and this was a departure for me.

Steph said...

I found your review of this book really illuminating and also really interesting. I had heard so much good stuff about this novel, and recently read a review that compared it to Tana French's novels, which as you know, I read and loved earlier this year. But lately, many of the reviews I've encountered about this book have actually been pretty negative, mentioning either the excessive violence against women it features, or in your case, the less than thrilling plot.

This was a book that I was really excited to try, having heard so much good about it. I do still think I will read it, but I won't make it a priority, and will probably borrow it from the library. I will also be a little more cautious when I approach it; perhaps having my expectations somewhat lowered will be a good thing in this case.

Diane said...

Thanks so much for your honest review. I'm still on the fence as to whether I'll read this series.

Aarti said...

I wonder if the series gets better as it continues? I don't know, and I assume you're not going to go further. So weird/interesting about the obscene level of detail in the book.

bermudaonion said...

I don't like too much detail either, but I still plan to read this book since I've had it a long time!

Meghan said...

Oh no! I'm sorry that the hype seems to have ruined it for you. That worries me as I'm planning to read these books. I'll have to lower my expectations now - thanks.

Marie said...

I don't read a lot of thrillers either and I agree with you that Lisbeth was the best thing about the book- such an intriguing and unusual character. and i thought larrson treated her with a great deal of respect, which i appreciated.

Nymeth said...

Oh no, I'm sorry you were let down! I was on the fence about this book for ages. Then yesterday I read a review that made me decide to read it. And now I don't know again :P Thank you for sharing your thoughts, though! If I do read it, I'll at least adjust my expectations.

Elizabeth said...

I really appreciated this review - it illustrated some things that I can anticipate bugging me. I think I will still read it, but will go into the reading more prepared for what I might find. Thanks!

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I've heard such great things about this one that I've been hesitant to read it. I usually don't like really hyped books...I'll get to it eventually, as I have it on audio and in print, but I'm not in too much of a hurry. Thanks for your great review!

Lenore said...

I too have been on the fence about this one, and the things that bothered you would bother me too. Plus 608 pages?! EEEK!

Hazra said...

Oh, I really want to read this book, but I'm so scared that I'll be let down by all the hype, as you seem to have been.

Dar said...

Thanks for the honest review. I've seen so many good reviews for it and to be honest I'm really on the fence with it. I've read the description numerous times and I'm just not sure it's for me.

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