Friday, April 1, 2011

Unpredictable, Boring, But Also Hard to Put Down

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium Series #1) by Stieg Larsson (Knopf, 2008, 480pp.)

Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander are two of the unlikeliest partners you will ever read about. One is a muck-raking journalist down on his luck; the other is a social reject and computer hacker. Together, they team up to assist an elderly industrialist, Henrik Vanger, who harbors a suspicion that his long-lost niece, Harriet, was murdered decades ago by one of their relatives. This is a bizarre, gruesome work that will either traumatize or intrigue the reader, depending on individual taste. The plot that Larsson has cooked up is far from predictable. The novel begins with Blomkvist’s public disgrace after he is sued by a local corporation for slander, then pursues the “Harriet” storyline for several hundred pages before taking an sudden, unexpected detour into serial killer territory. Complete with horrifying backstories of rape, incest, Nazism, women-haters, murder, and brutality, this is a combo will no doubt be the deal-breaker for more sensitive readers. The novel’s biggest flaw is that Larsson tries to cram too much into one book. He feels compelled to follow every subplot and backstory to its fullest potential, a habit that brings him in serious danger of boring the reader to tears. This is unfortunate, because the novel is otherwise hard to put down. The suspense alone is enough to propel the reader through Blomkvist and Salander’s grim, rambling investigation of the severely dysfunctional Vanger clan. As is the rule with most bestsellers, there’s no fence-sitting for this one. You’ll either love it or hate it.

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