I am of the persuasion that sometimes you have to work to enjoy a book. It may not be the most captivating thing, but even if I’m not engrossed after the first fifty pages I will solider on (unless I hate it so much and have no optimism, see “Eat, Pray, Love”). And based on reviews of Larrson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (though I prefer the Swedish title of “Men Who Hate Women”) I thought I had a big payoff coming after the first couple of hundred pages. And this book is long, my copy was a standard paperback clocking in at almost 700 pages. Even though the middle was enjoyable, I don’t think it was worth it.
Larrson has three main issues that he tries to work into this thriller. The first, violence against women, he does fairly well with. The female protagonist is believable, and though the scenes of graphic rape and the way she consequently deals with it are graphic and disturbing, you’re still rooting for Lisbeth Salander. There are a lot of men who hate women in this book, and the male protagonist is painted as a passive man taking whatever women wants him (and for a middle aged man and convict there seem to be a lot) into bed, and letting them totally dictate the relationship. Violence against women is a major theme, one dealt with realistically and well worked into the central plot.
The second issue is financial corruption among major corporations. Readers might read with glee after all of America’s wall street messes recently, but I did not find this particularly enjoyable. It reads like an average Joe on a soapbox (at one point the fictional book the fictional character wrote is extensively quoted on the problems with lax financial investigative journalism) with a juvenile revenge fantasy. The antagonist in this subplot (dealt with the first and last hundred pages, a murder mystery takes the middle) is never fleshed into an actual character and instead seems to be corruption incarnate.
The third issue is Nazism. In this the Nazi characters are simply categorized as insane, and that’s left as that. There is no exploration of the Swedish collective ideology on the manner, or what lead to their beliefs. Instead, it is an idea that is never quite fleshed out.
The writing in the middle, what I believe the book should have been edited out to, is a standard mystery. I hesitate to use the word thriller as times when the protagonists are in any danger is very brief. Was that part a good read? Yes. Was it the epic family saga or great literary gemstone all the buzz is about? I don’t think so. For me this book was poorly edited, mediocre writing, and never lived out as the great book I think it could have been. If you’re to read this, I’d cut out a fourth on either end. The middle is quite enjoyable. How much of this can be blamed on the translation I don't know.