So. Much. Violence. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I knew what I was getting myself into when I started reading Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo since, those of you who read my blog know, it was the movie that inspired my reading of this book.  I knew that I would be reading about plenty of violence against women after having seen so much of it on screen.  I wasn’t prepared for the effect it would have on me to see the words so precisely placed on the page – horrific words that once strung together produced a most disturbing and terrifying picture in my head.  (yes, that picture was mostly of Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara solving the mystery of the serial killer – but it was extremely disturbing nonetheless).

The book presents a crisply clinical observation of violence against women in Sweden – something I didn’t know was such an insidious part of that society.  Part 2 of the novel, Consequence Analysis, opens with a statistical epigraph: “Forty-six percent of women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man.”  I was positively floored when I read the statistic.  This novel does not hold any punches – it places a very serious and real issue, that affects everyone, everywhere, in the spotlight.  The novel made me uncomfortable, made me feel fear, disgust, rage and deep sorrow for the fictional victims of a very disturbed fictional serial killer.  Or, as Lisbeth Salander, Larsson’s protagonist describes him, a serial hater of women.

I have never read such a novel.  I normally steer clear of plots that involve So. Much. Violence.  In fact, had I known the plot beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have watched the film.  This reminded me of something I had read on a blog I follow, 101 Books (check it out – fantastic blog).  In December, Robert was reading Lolita and he questioned what our limits were in terms of reading material…he felt he had reached his in reading about a pedophile.  I have to admit, I was feeling the same way through many of the graphic scenes and descriptions in Larsson’s book.  I was unnerved at the extent of the violence against women Larsson created; I was more unnerved when I read his epigraphs and realized that this is not his creation, nor a reflection of his sick mind (though I admittedly know very little about Larsson).  It is a mirror of what goes on every day in some women’s lives.  Being ignorant of it does not mean it does not exist.

Larsson’s victims are vindicated by Lisbeth Salander (a victim herself).  She is a crusador for women who have been or were victimized- not that she would ever openly say she is a crusador.  Not even close.  She would snarl and stomp off angrily that someone has tried to label her.  The characters in this novel are so well developed.  Even the minor characters possess a richness that allows the reader to understand them, their views and the reasons behind their decision-making – repulsive, or not.  At times, I felt character descriptions were a bit tedious – there were characters I did not care for, nor did I feel the need to understand their past in order to place them into the plot.  But, I grew to appreciate Larsson’s attention to detail.

Regardless of the layered detail, Lisbeth Salander remains an enigma.  There is much description about her, her lifestyle, her abilities and intelligence.  Yet, she remains inaccesible.  There is still that part of her that is difficult to understand, to connect with – but, I believe that is part of her allure.

I have to admit, the novel did drag on for a bit at the end.  It had what felt like three different resolutions…I kept asking myself when is this going to end? (oh yeah, I forgot that happened in the movie too).

It did end.  And, it ended well.  So much so that I’ve already started The Girl Who Played With Fire (finally!) and I had to pry it out of my fingers so I could write this review.

Ultimately, I’m happy to have completed the novel and not jumped straight into the second book in the trilogy.  It has prepared me for Larsson’s writing style – which I am now thoroughly enjoying.  It was an entertaining read – swift (mostly) and eye-opening.  I would definitely recommend it.

The Problem with Watching the Movie First

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson has yet to really hook me.  I am ten chapters in and I keep waiting for something to happen.  I like the straightforward, simple writing (keeping in mind that this is a translation).  I haven’t read any Nordic writers – with the exception of Henrik Ibsen, whose plays also demonstrate a simple, direct writing style that exposes social ironies.  I wouldn’t call Larson’s use of voice ironic; he is straightfoward – a journalist just like Mikael Blomkvist.  The story reads in a journalistic fashion.  A bunch of really interesting facts about the Vangers, about Salander, about Swedish bureaucracy that I read and read and read to get to the end so I can start reading book two of the series The Girl Who Played with Fire which is the story I am actually interested in.

I am diligently reading because I enjoyed the movie so much that I am itching to know what happens next in Lisbeth Salander’s life.  But, since I am a true book nerd, I am compelled to read the books, in order, instead of waiting for the next movie.

I convince myself that it’s really neat to come across moments in the novel that didn’t make it to the screen and ponder directorial choices.  I tell myself that it’s great to know more about the characters and see them become three-dimensional in the novel.  It doesn’t work.  I’ve got the movie moving through my head as I read – I can’t make up my own Sweden because my imagination is saturated with Fincher’s vision of the novel.  Oh well, fortunately, I don’t mind Fincher’s vision – certain shots showed off winter’s beauty and actually made it look appealing.  This is from someone who unabashedly hibernates through the cold Canadian winter – winter activities? Only if sitting by the fireplace with a glass of wine counts!

So, my main problem isn’t the book at all.  It’s that I watched the movie first.  It is an age-old argument: do you read the book first, or watch the movie.  I’ve done both, and in either order, the book always ends up being better.  However, in the past when I watched the movie first (say, Harry Potter), reading the book was enriched by the film.

In this case, I can’t seem to get through all the set up in the earlier chapters to get to the good stuff later on.  I’m hesitant to say, that maybe, for the first time ever, I enjoyed the movie more than the book.  I can’t be completely certain of this until I finish it – but, right now, it seems to be the case.

I hope I change my mind by the end of the novel.