I've been meaning to write this one for weeks. I think I've been procrastinating because I generally find blog book reviews really long, boring and difficult to get through. I don't want this to be that way- I really want this to be a tool to help you decide if this is a book you would like to read. Let me know if I succeed- I sure don't want to waste my or your time with useless book reviews. We could be spending that time....well, reading;)
I picked up 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" well before the Steig Larsson craze got underway. I bought it because the yellow cover caught my eye and the Border's employee said "that's a good book" when I was reading the back cover. I'm terrible at judging books by their covers and don't have a great success ratio w/ Border's employees suggestions but until I find a better way to choose books, I guess I'll keep using these completely fallible methods:)
Very briefly, for those who have been living under a rock (or don't listen to NPR), Steig Larsson was a Swedish journalist who dabbled in fiction, but never seriously attempted publication. However, someone found 3 manuscripts after he died a few years back and they were publised post-humousely. The three books together are called "The Millenium series" and consist of:
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
"The Girl who Played with Fire"
"The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest"
In general, they are categorized as "crime novels", which I guess they are, but so much better than a "who dun' it" book. The first two in the series are absolute page turners. They are the kind of books that you think about all day at work because you can't wait to get home to read. The plot is complex (but still easy to follow) and very dark- somewhat in the vein of Silence of the Lambs- with a lot of unexpected, yet sensical, plot twists. You must read all three books to fully appreciate the intricacies of the plot, yet each book has a completeness in its own right. Without going into too much detail, there are 2 main characters in the books: Micheal Blomkvist, an aggresive investigative journalist who 'outs' all kinds of famous, powerful people for doing bad things and Lisbeth Salandar (i.e. 'the girl') who is a tortured, damaged, yet absolute genius of a woman who lives life by a set of rules and norms that seem very odd from the outside yet have a certain pleasing internal consistency- you can really empathize with this woman so very different form most of us. There is a reasonable amount of sex and violence- a couple of very brutal acts of violence against woman- that are disturbing but sort of necessary for the plot.
Another plus for this series is the fact that it is Swedish. There are many things about the values and lifestyles of the characters in the book that seemed very "non-American". It'd be fun to talk to a modern Swede and see what they think about the representation of their country in the books- particularly the third book that is less crime novel and more political drama.
Some feel that the journalist character, Blomkvist, was loosely based on the author. Larsson was a journalist and a political activist, who was very involved in exposing Swedish extreme right and racist organizations. Much of the third book centers around this topic. Even more interesting, Larsson had many death threats against him for his work in outing racist public figures and experienced frequent death threats. Larsson died young- at 50- supposedly from a heart attack, but conspiracy theorists believe he was murdered.
More controversy surrounded Larsson's will that was found by his long term partner, Eva Gabrielsson. Apparently, Larsson wanted to leave all his assets to the Communist Worker's League (now the Socialist Party) but the will was unwitnessed so his entire estate (including his book royalties) went to his father and brother. His partner, Eva, got nothing. Even more strange (the plot of this guy's life is about as crazy as his books!), the reason Eva and Stieg didn't get married is because under Swedish law, couples who get married are required to make their addresses publicly available and Larsson thought this would put their safety at risk. Wow!
The first 2 books already have movies out (Swedish independent versions). I hear Hollywood is going to do its own version eventually as well. If you like the books, I'd highly recommend the first movie (named after the book). I haven't seen the 2nd movie yet so can't comment. I thought the movie was very true to the book, which is saying a lot given the plot complexity and heavy reliance on character development in the book. Adam saw the movie with me and had not read the book and he thought it was entertaining and well made but was bothered by one of the violent scenes. Looking back, I can see how that scene would really bother someone not prepared for it (it would bother anyone, but particularly if you are not prepared). Also, Adam noted that the scene doesn't seem necessary to the rest of the movie. This is true- the scene is vital to books 2 and 3, but unless you've already read the series you wouldn't know that. So, see the movies with your book club, not with folks who haven't read them. Click here to see the trailer for the first movie.
Apparently three-quarters of a 4th novel exists and is likely to get published. I think they should stop while they're ahead. These 3 books are great. No more sequels needed.
If I've convinced you to give them a shot, I hope you enjoy!