Saturday, October 31, 2009
Visit Stockholm, Sweden and you'll be entranced by cleanliness from the moment you arrive. Brightly-hued flowers mingle with the beauty of Old World brick and stonework while freshly-scrubbed Swedes wind their way to work. Even in this modern metropolis, you cannot but marvel at the effort taken to present such an immaculate, crisp image to the outside world.
But Stieg Larsson knows better.
First published in English a year ago, Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has garnered considerable praise for its deft characterization in service to a high tension mystery/thriller plot. Yet it's not the usual thriller trappings that enthrall readers entirely. This is no banal police procedural or run-of-the-mill locked room mystery (though elements of both figure prominently in the novel). Instead, there is something simply riveting about what Larsson reveals about his native Sweden - things which, I suppose, most Swedes already know, but which Americans could not even begin to fathom.
Calling Larsson's Sweden "seedy" just isn't the right term. Take the image of a 1970s-era Times Square completely out of your mind. Likewise, drop your noir-driven conceptions of cheesy first-person narrative. These are crimes, criminals and environments of an entirely different nature.
The plot is anything but simple, and readers may be initially put off by the complicated Vanger family tree that greets them inside the front cover. For what it's worth, I never needed to refer to the family tree, and I imagine most except the most retentive readers won't have to. Beyond this superfluous map, the novel begins with quite a paradox of reading conditions. I defy anyone to read the prologue and not be immediately captivated by the vague mystery presented. In contrast, the first few chapters past the prologue are enough to drive away all but the most devoted reader. It's an odd pairing, to be sure, but I encourage tenacity - the layers of this mystery may peel back slowly, but the payoff is worth the wait.
I have to say that I tried to read this book for about a week. I'd pick it up when I had 10 minutes at lunchtime and set it down, the next day I'd do the same thing and I just couldn't get into it. Well, I woke up one Saturday and decided it was a good day to read and never set the book down again. It is one big page turner. For a minute it was hard to get into the Swedish names and places, but you get over that quick as the plot thickens. Great book!