It's a good thing that so many people raved to me about Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; otherwise, I might not have persevered beyond the first thirty pages. In the early going, it seemed to me to be too densely detailed and, frankly, not all that interesting. Quite a bit of background was required to explain a complicated financial fraud that set the story in motion, and that sort of thing makes my eyes glaze over. But around about page thirty, Lisbeth Salander, the tattooed girl of the title, made her first appearance, and from that point on I was riveted. I had to cancel everything else I had planned for the day because I couldn't stop reading. It proved a mind-bogglingly good book in the end—yet another triumph in Scandinavian crime fiction.
I won't attempt to sum up the plot. It's too complex to be boiled down in that fashion and, in any event, I don't want to give anything away. Suffice it to say that there were several twists, and I didn't see a single one of them coming. Riveting plot(s) aside though, the greatest strength of the book for me lies in the characters, particularly the aforementioned Lisbeth Salander who strikes me as a wholly original creation. I read somewhere that one of the inspirations behind Salander was another famous figure of Swedish literature, Pippi Longstocking (and Astrid Lindgren—as well as several fine authors of crime fiction, Swedish and English—is name-checked more than once in the text). This is a bit horrifying to contemplate, as I hate to imagine Pippi living through some of the experiences Salander has had to endure. Yet it also seems perfect, as Salander certainly shares Pippi's grit, independence, and eccentricity.
Author Stieg Larsson died before the book was published, at the tragically young age of fifty. But he had already submitted two sequels to his publishers along with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. So even as we lament the loss of a great writing talent, English readers still have two more novels to which to look forward. The second in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire is not due out in English translation in North America until July, but it was released in the UK in January. I think rather than waiting patiently for July, I'll be putting in an order for the UK edition at The Book Depository pronto.
I did a bit of digging to find the source of the Lisbeth Salander/Pippi Longstocking connection and found this quotation from an interview with Larsson cited in a newspaper article:
Salander's character [...] was inspired by the strong-willed redhead Pippi Longstocking in the children's books by the late Astrid Lindgren."What would she have been like today? What would she have been like as an adult? What would she be called? A sociopath?" Larsson told book store industry magazine Svensk Bokhandel in the only interview he did about his crime fiction. "I created her as Lisbeth Salander, 25 years old and extremely isolated. She doesn't know anyone, has no social competence."
Then I came across a marvellous post by blogger Dorte Jakobsen in which she explores the parallel in depth.
Finally, lest I've given the wrong impression with all this talk of Astrid Lindgren, I ought to make clear that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a decidedly adult book which is at times very violent (though, even in my squeamish opinion, not gratuitously so).