Monday, February 21, 2011

6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

After the outdated tome that was Crime and Punishment, I had to reward myself somehow, and I did so with this contemporary mystery-turned-social-commentary (or is it the other way around?). For the most part I enjoyed it, and I've come away with a two lasting consequences.

The first is that, once again, religion terrifies me. I read The DaVinci Code and then Angels and Demons several years ago, after it became apparent that not having read them was a conspicuous hole in my modern reading list, and came away extremely psychologically bothered. Logically I know that there are many kind, honest, well-intentioned adherents of organized religion out there, who live their lives in a reasoned fear of consequences from above and adhere to strong moral principles. And yet there is clearly something about religion that spurs the writing of these books, that fascinate the dark side and stir up the monomaniacal. For all of the good that religion is supposed to do and spread, there is an equally secretive and troubled past that drives certain sociopaths and creates this twisted, outdated, out-of-context 'reality.' Various people have told me that the Bible should be read for literary purposes, but I really don't think I will.

The second, and far more pleasant, lasting consequence is that I now desperately want to visit Sweden someday, even though outrageously tall people make me physically uncomfortable. Yes, it's cold, and I've had quite enough of cold weather; there is probably a reason Swedish cuisine has never spread internationally, except through the mediocre cafeterias at IKEA; and there are countless other places I should rather go to first, but the truth is that Larsson describes life in Sweden with such a strange, detailed allure that it's hard to resist.

One of the simultaneous strengths and weaknesses of this novel is Larsson's attention to detail. For some reason he never missed an opportunity to specifically name the technological aspects of the characters' lives, and rattled off that Mikael Blomkvist used an iBook while Lisbeth Salander used a PowerBook, that searches were conducted in Google, that Hans-Erik Wennerstrom browsed with Internet Explorer, that characters drove BMWs and Kawasakis and Volvos, that e-mail addresses were hosted on Hotmail and Yahoo, and so forth. I've never been a fan of fiction books being so specific about real-life brand names, and my reaction this time was no exception. I probably would have been able to get over it, though, if Larsson had remained consistent and done some research. The name-dropping, for example, conspicuously ceases in matters of fashion--Salander apparently buys only "designer jewelry," and not, say, jewelry from Paloma Herrera.

The characters--are they maddening or not? Half the time I felt like I was almost reading a Nancy Drew Her Interactive game script, but thankfully the resolution of the novel was far more complicated than that. Both Blomkvist and Salander are driven by strong personal convictions of what is right and wrong, and while it is a commendable trait one cannot help but feel that somehow justice has not been served. What frustrated me most was that Salander independently made the decision to destroy all of the necessary evidence before the agreement to cover up the true story was reached. What right did she have to make such a move? Argh.

The ending, actually, confused me a little. Larsson gets lost trying to describe a complex and generally illegal plan of Salander's to trip Wennerstrom up, and what ends up happening is a series of choppy sections that describe the transfer of money into mirror accounts and the withdrawal of millions more. I mean, okay, I got the point of it all, but I still felt like I was unclear on how exactly all of the money Salander had withdrawn and then re-deposited had made its circuitous route around the world. Oh well, whatever.

I'm probably going to have to take a break before I read The Girl Who Played with Fire, but I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully it will explain a few things before taking off at breakneck speed again.

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