Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Once again, I am way behind everybody else. Recently I finished Stieg Larsson's mega-bestseller THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Not only am I behind everyone else, I'm apparently at odds with their judgment.

I thought it was a perfectly competent mystery novel. The character of Lisbeth, so geeky and socially alienated and reserved that most people think she is mentally challenged rather than brilliant, was interesting. So was the setting, Scandanavia in winter.

However [SPOILER ALERT] the serial-killer-of-women villain was two-dimensional, and hardly fresh. The murders were described in such grisly detail that it became not just graphic but unnecessarily sensationalistic. A major aspect of the plot, the Biblical tie-ins to the murders, was introduced with much fanfare and then just dropped. Other plot aspects seemed merely distracting, such as Lisbeth's mother's never-revealed "secrets." Finally, the story is cluttered with much backstory about family history, going back to the fifteenth century, that has little bearing on the present and introduces -- literally -- at least a hundred names who never appear again.

So I'm left wondering -- why this book? Why this novel at this time to become such a hit? I don't know. I never know. Publishing is mysterious, but not nearly as mysterious as readers' responses to it.

Or maybe it's just me.


Hektor Karl said...

My response matches yours, though I keep encountering people who love the trilogy.

My best guess: the explorations of institutional corruption, dysfunctional families, and the media -- in addition to Lisbeth and the setting, as you mentioned -- draw people in.

I’d be interested to read a vigorous defense of it, since people usually just urge me on with something like ‘Keep reading, it picks up soon.’

I don’t dislike it while I’m reading it, but when I put it down, I don’t feel a need to return to it. And with the Kindle I can always click to another book…

Sabine said...

I am relieved to hear that I'm not the only one who doesn't get it. I haven't even managed to fight my way past all that back story in the first novel. Usually, if a book doesn't engage me by page fifty, I give up. I'm way past that, because friends tell me "It will get better" - but I set it down several months ago and haven't picked it up since.

I have been assuming there's something wrong with the German translation (which is what I'm reading), but apparently not.

Jeff P said...

I've not read it yet, but it's in my TBR pile. Most people I know respond to it in two ways: "it's amazing , you have to read it!" and "it sucks".

However, I'm perplexed by its popularity just based on the subject matter. Why such an immense world-wide bestseller about a middling (and extremely slow to get going, from what I've heard) mystery?

Jack Crow said...

Haven't read it. But, two words: Dan Brown.

Most readers are not writers. They don't have the same standards. They aren't trained to craft narrative, so perhaps they aren't as interested in a seamless whole as an artisan might be. The ordinary reader is probably looking for release, escape or entertainment. Not for the literary analog of fine dining and expertly performed dinner theater.

Hundreds of millions of people watch bad television every day; this is subject matter which is poorly written, ill conceived dross run through with gaping plot holes, dropped story lines and unreliable characters.

Perhaps that's even a good thing. Otherwise, we wouldn't have (which includes film, novels, comics, live action) as a destination.

Nels said...

I almost gave up when reading the backstory part of the book, but since it was an audiobook, I was able to make it through. Having finished it, I agree with everything in your post, Nancy.

A.R.Yngve said...

My 2 cents:

The success of Stieg Larsson's trilogy is very much about the female protagonist, Lisbeth Salander. Readers like to identify with a hero(or heroine) who is essentially a paradox: powerless victim AND omni-competent ass-kicker.

That the protagonist is female and highly intelligent (and a victim of abusive men) only strengthens the sense of identification among female readers.

Of course, this will lead to scores of Lisbeth Salander it too early to call it a new genre? "Salander Lit"...