(Tattooed is an ongoing series.)
Holy distractions, Batman. Aside from my last review (which was more than expected, it was mandatory) I haven’t been giving the Shrine much love lately, which is kind of troublesome. Particularly troublesome since I have two series to finish and have been too busy to do so. Also, I’ve been distracted by Boardwalk Empire.
So here I am, taking one step closer to catching up.
A few months ago I read Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2005), which was something I thought I would never do. I don’t usually read bestsellers you see for sale at grocery stores, airports and gas stations. In fact, I don’t usually read bestsellers, period. However Larsson’s background as a writer and activist intrigued me. Also, David Fincher’s adaptation of the book was in the cards, which will likely be where I’ll be spending part of my birthday next month.
I thought this first book was borderline brilliant. It was a deftly written exposé on the nature of sexual crime from every angle. Its elements were true to life. It was angry. It was accurate. It was brutal. The twist near the end was devastating. What’s more, the character of Lisbeth Salander was original and unforgettable.
Salander becomes the main focus of the next installment in the Millennium Series, The Girl Who Played With Fire (2006), which shouldn’t be all that surprising. The main mystery of Tattoo was finding out what happened to Harriet Vanger. In this book the mystery is about what happened to Salander and who she truly is. In fact, I’d argue that it’s about why she is.
I’m still not sure how to feel about what this book reveals. Although I wouldn’t say Fire is a bad read, there’s something about it that doesn’t ring true. I was disappointed in it. Even worse, once I found out where Salander came from I wasn’t surprised. Not a bit. I was like, “Of course. Duh.”
I do have to say a 12-year-old girl ambushing her father with a Molotov cocktail was a nice touch, though. That’s something you don’t read every day.
But let’s start at the beginning. The novel opens with Salander, now filthy rich from the millions she stole from Hans-Erik Wennerström. She has been traveling the world, taken a teenage lover, gotten breast implants, saved a woman from her wife-beating husband, braved a tropical storm… okay, by now I already feel weird. All of this sounds like a fantasy. This continues as Salander returns home and confronts the fact that she will never have to work a day in her life again. She proceeds to buy an insanely expensive apartment and goes on shopping sprees. These passages are extensively detailed, listing her items down to the last dollar.
Now I’m bored.
All isn’t lost though. There is one concept Larsson introduces in this book that I find interesting, although somewhat unnecessary: the sexual “inner lives” of the characters. He starts with Salander as she seeks out and reconnects with her former lover, Miriam Wu. This makes sense somewhat and indicates that Salander is still effected by her relationship with the series’ other main protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist. He has prompted her to open up to other people, maintain relationships and risk being vulnerable. This is further proven by her relationship with Holger Palmgren (which I’d argue is much more important than her interactions with Wu).
These sections aren’t just about the sexual acts in the relationship but the characters’ motivations and attitudes toward sex. In a series already populated with sadists and perverts, Larsson obviously wants to provide us with people who have a healthier outlook on things. Healthy, open and very, very liberal. I was fine with this, but found myself amused with passages that go something like this: “As Erika Berger sat at the IKEA desk in her office she reflected on how awesome sex was.”
Man, even I could have guessed that.
The book also reveals that Blomkvist has started a sexual relationship with Harriet Vanger. I was like, “Really? Really?” For some reason I found this really weird. She used to babysit him, for God’s sake. I was actually creeped out and wished Blomkvist would keep it in his pants for once.
Anyway, the plot actually begins when Salander is framed for a triple murder (one of the victims is Salander’s former guardian/rapist- whoops) and Blomkvist sets out to clear her name. There’s also something about exposing a sex ring but that quickly becomes itty-bitty-bitty-bit- ah, it’s nearly forgotten and we’re halfway into the book. This crusade as well as the murders of Blomkvist’s co-workers become nothing more than plot devices, then mere afterthoughts.
It isn’t long before the plot begins to completely derail for me. A gazillion new characters are introduced: detectives, police officers and associates from Milton Security (I can hardly keep them straight). Miriam Wu gets kidnapped. Salander tortures a guy while wearing facepaint. Boxer Paolo Roberto shows up and has a fight-to-the-deathmatch in a warehouse. Erika decides to leave Millennium but neglects telling anyone. Salander turns out to be an expert kickboxer/ninja who can take out bikers.
Then the big reveal comes: Salander’s father is a kingpin of the sex trade industry and orchestrated her abusive childhood. No. Shit.
Of course there’s more to it than that, but in a nutshell… that’s really it. Shortly after Salander is confronting this man, Alexander “Zala” Zalachenko, and her genetic anomaly of a half-brother on an isolated ranch. Their relations aren’t that good. For one thing, Zala still holds a huge grudge for that one time Salander set him on fire. He promptly orders her execution. Salander is shot in the head and buried.
But wait- she’s alive after all. After crawling out of her shallow grave she makes her way back to the house- WITH A BULLET IN HER BRAIN. Then Blomkvist arrives and calls for help. Part three, anyone?
Okay, yeah, sure. I’ll read the third book someday. I’m just concerned that the Millennium Series is becoming preoccupied with its characters and losing sight of what it’s angry at in the first place: namely “men who hate women” and high level corruption. Perhaps that is explored in the final installment, which is possible since there are a lot of loose ends. So in the end I’m willing to give these books the benefit of the doubt.
Thing is, even if I read The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest (2007) and hated it that wouldn’t matter that much. I would still appreciate and admire the first book a lot. It will always have a place on my bookshelf and I love discussing it with other people.
As for the Swedish film adaptation of the Fire, I turned it off halfway through. It was the scene where Blomkvist meets up with a source to talk about Zala in a friggin’ public park. There are joggers passing them by while they talk about this information that is super secret and could get both of them killed. I decided, “This is so stupid. I’m done.”
Perhaps David Fincher will be able to improve on all of this.