Daily Archives: April 16, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Book Review

Armansky’s star researcher was a pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows. She had a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck, a tattooed loop around the biceps of her left arm and another around her left ankle. On those occasions when she had been wearing a tank top, Armansky also saw that she had a dragon tattoo on her left shoulder blade. She was a natural redhead, but she dyed her hair raven black. She looks as though she had just emerged from a week-long orgy with a gang of hard rockers. – from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, page 32 –

Mikael Blomkvist is journalist who finds himself convicted in a libel case and facing the potential demise of his magazine along with a jail sentence. So when Henrik Vanger, an aging businessman, offers Mikael a job to uncover the mystery of  young Harriet Vanger’s disappearance, he decides to take it. Harriet (Henrik’s niece) disappeared in the 1960s, when she was just 16 years old and now (forty years later) no trace of her has ever been uncovered. Henrik Vanger is convinced someone in the Vanger family murdered the young girl, and he wants to know how and who. In an effort to solve the mystery, Mikael begins to research the dysfunctional Vanger family and eventually seeks the help of a research assistant named Lisbeth Salander – an odd, antisocial 24 year old whose primary skill is hacking into seemingly secure computer systems and unearthing information about just about anyone.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has two story lines. The first is the mystery of Harriet Vanger; the second is that of financial intrigue and fraud involving a huge Swedish corporation. Stieg Larsson melds these two plots through the characters of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.

I had mixed feelings about this novel. I must admit, I was expecting to love it due to all the positive buzz. Instead, I found myself shifting back and forth from admiration to criticism. Larsson spends a good quarter of the book setting up the characters and plot, a process that at times dragged for me. Once Blomkvist gets to the Vanger compound, the story picks up and becomes more interesting. The members of the Vanger family are mostly despicable, dysfunctional characters and their faults include a propensity towards violence, Nazi activities, incest and domestic violence. Even Henrik Vanger, who is arguably one of the “good guys” lacks ethical fortitude and is not above lying to get what he wants.  There were moments when I wanted to put the book down and go take a shower after spending an hour with these characters.

Another negative for me was the relationship which develops between Lisbeth and Mikael. Mikael is nearly twice Lisbeth’s age, and although she has a tough exterior, she also has a fragility which makes her vulnerable. I found the idea that a sexual relationship would develop between them to be mostly unbelievable, and actually a bit distasteful.

Once the mystery is solved, the novel takes an unexpected turn in terms of the resolution of the case – one I found shocking and disappointing. I can’t tell you more without ruining the plot, but suffice it to say that the protection of business interests takes priority over any moral or legal responsibilities … something I found hard to stomach given the role Mikael has as an investigative reporter.

Despite these rather strong criticisms of the novel, I did find some strengths which kept me reading. The financial intrigue was the strongest element in the book for me. In fact, had Larsson just written his book around this plot, it would have been a successful novel. Lisbeth drives this part of the story, and it is her character which redeems the book.

Lisbeth is a damaged individual who has had her share of tragedy and trauma. She is mostly asocial, but brilliant. Her ability to take care of herself in a dark and dangerous world belies her fragile sense of self. I found her sad. At times I wanted to take her home and fix her. She is a sympathetic, complex character who draws the reader to her. It is because of Lisbeth that I would read the sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I care about her. I want to know what happens to her.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a raw, visceral novel. Larsson’s matter-of-fact way of describing the violence (mostly of a sexual nature) made the acts more disturbing than had he been more dramatic. Readers who have experienced sexual assault in their lives may find this novel one to be avoided. On the other hand, Larsson’s character development is above reproach, and the sections which dealt with the convoluted financial plot were intense and engaging.

So how do I rate this book which left me feeling ambivalent? I had more reservations about it than accolades, so even though I will read the sequel to find out what happens to Lisbeth, I finally decided the book deserved an average rating.

Friday Finds – April 16, 2010

April 16, 2010

Welcome to Friday Finds, a weekly event sponsored by Jenn at Should Be Reading. I don’t participate every week, but rest assured, I DO find books every week that I am tempted to read. Here are the books that have been on my radar over the last couple of weeks.

**Clicking on the book title takes you to Amazon; clicking on the featured blog will take you to their review which tempted me.

The Sweet By and By, by Todd Johnson as featured on Heather’s blog Book Addiction and Bethany’s blog Dreadlock Girl.

Heather loved this novel written in the distinct voices of four different women. She writes: ‘I was so charmed by The Sweet By and By, honestly I just found this to be such a sweet, engrossing novel.  Even though parts of the book brought a tear to my eye, overall it is such a hopeful book and there is so much love between the characters packed in just over 300 pages.  For those of you who adore Southern fiction, this is a must-read.‘ Bethany writes: ‘I wish I could choose classics- this one would be on my very short list. I highly recommend this read, young and old alike -no question. Loved it.‘ I enjoy Southern fiction, and I love books which feature women as the protagonists…so this one goes on my wish list.

The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak as featured on Jill’s blog Fizzy Thoughts.

I have to be honest – I have picked up this book in the bookstore at least five times, and then put it back. The cover art is what keeps drawing me to it…but I haven’t feel drawn to the story. Now I am. Why? Because of Jill’s excellent review of it. She writes: ‘One of the things I loved so much about this book is how it takes a historical figure (actually, two of them…Rumi and Shams both existed) and illustrates both their life and the era they lived in. The book is a glimpse into Sufism and dervishes and life in 13th century Turkey (well, it wasn’t Turkey at the time, but you know what I mean).‘ I am always so fascinated with other cultures, and Jill also commented on the beautiful writing. Looks like I’ll be eventually buying this one.

Bloodroot, by Amy Greene as featured on Greg’s blog The New Dork Review of Books.

Here’s another one whose cover art caught my eye. But it was Greg’s review that made me add it to my wish list. He writes: ‘Don’t be surprised if you see Amy Greene’s Bloodroot make its way onto several of the literary prize short lists later this year. It’s that good; a wonderfully engrossing story by a debut novelist who writes with amazing clarity, emotion, authenticity and beauty.‘ Wow, that’s quite an endorsement. Greg also recommends this book for book clubs. I can’t wait to read it.

Secret Daughter, by Shilpi Somaya-Gowda as featured on Swapna’s blog S. Krishna’s Books AND Heather’s blog Book Addiction.

Another gorgeous cover and two fabulous reviews. This book is about a mother forced to give up her daughter, and Swapna couldn’t say enough wonderful things about the novel. She writes: ‘I cannot put into words how much I loved Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s Secret Daughter.  Though I will try in this review, I assure you that my words will not to justice to this amazing piece of literature.  Gowda writes with such grace and wisdom, it is impossible to believe that this is her debut novel.‘ Heather also loved this novel and was drawn to it by its beautiful cover art. She writes: ‘I’m being completely honest when I say that I don’t have one negative thing to say about this book.  Not only was it full of beautiful writing and chapters that just flew by, but the characters were wonderfully drawn and so real to me.‘ I’m convinced I, too, will love this book. Thanks Swapna and Heather for adding another one to my must-read list.

Dragon House, by John Shors as featured on Jill’s blog Fizzy Thoughts.

This novel is about Vietnamese street children…and John Shors is donating a portion of the proceeds of this book to the charity Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. Jill writes: ‘Each of the characters brings something different to the story, and I’m sure every reader will connect differently with the book and the characters, as there is lots to think about.‘ I love books with multiple characters and story lines. This book sounds like one I’d like.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoë François as featured on Dawn’s blog She is Too Fond of Books.

I love bread. I love the smell of it baking, the crunch of its crust, and the warmth of a loaf right out of the oven. So it did not take a lot of convincing to get me to add this book to my wish list. Dawn writes: ‘Well, they’ve done it again!  Or, rather, they did this first … I’ve been having so much fun baking with the techniques and recipes in Hertzberg and François’ Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day (and my family has really appreciated the yummy results!); I decided to try the book that started this ‘baking revolution’ – Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.‘ Thanks for the heads up on this book, Dawn – it looks wonderful!

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson as featured on Marie’s blog The Boston Bibliophile.

This book was long listed for the Orange Prize this year, so it was already on my radar. But although I usually like the Orange Prize nominees, I couldn’t make my mind up whether or not I wanted to read this one. Marie’s review convinced me to add it to my wish list. She writes about the novel: ‘Well-crafted and beautifully written, it’s smarter than it is fluffy but still delivers its message with a spoonful of sugar. In the midst of some light comedy Simonson deals with some pretty heavy issues- racism, social upheaval, economic changes, religious and class tension, tradition and responsibility- but she does it in a way that is both pointed and surprisingly easy to swallow.‘ Doesn’t that sound great? I think so!

Thank you to all the wonderful bloggers who continue to enable me to add more and more books to my endless list of books to read. What books have you discovered lately?