cartoon noir

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the girl with the dragon tattoo over 500 pages by Stieg Larsson in his first novel.

A good read for people that enjoy an investigative story with some dramatic twists without details of emotional complexity or strings of fancy adjectives. I finished this with about 6 hours of reading. My interest was held firmly for the first 4/5ths, then I had to work at the last fifth. The last fifth made sense and tied up a lot of ends, but felt a bit too much like being ‘tidy’ in a fairly predictable way.

2 smiles: Ratings explained

Surprisingly, most of the online book reviews that I’ve read (The Guardian, The Times online) seem to focus more on telling the storyline and speculating about the late authors likely influences. They didn’t really give me sense of  the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Unlike Alfred Knopf’s  The New York Observer review. Knopf states the books popularity in Europe then makes an upfront fairly negative evaluative comment for the US audience – ‘The book is terrible, but there’s certainly something to it’.  Knopf uses lovely words like ‘preposterous’ and ‘ridiculous’ to describe the incidents and storyline.  This wasn’t my experience. The book storyline was nothing more preposterous than a combination of Joseph Fritzls story with Nick Leeson bringing down Barings bank with the connection strategy being a journalist.  Believable. But Knopf does have a point. There were times when the storyline or characters shifted from plausible to a comic style, exaggerated characterisation.  Both good and bad guys appeared to have super human abilities. For me this was actually a strength, I was rooting for the heroine to pull fabulous, unexpected, stuff and she did not disappoint. I wanted the bad guy to be a cunning, nasty person with no redeeming features. Stieg delivered.

The book’s Swedish title was ‘Men Who Hate Women’ and book sections start with surprisingly low Swedish statistics that describe violence against women and its impact. At first I wondered why, then I realised that the girl is probably supposed to be some incarnation of a feminist hero. To me, she is clearly a male construction of a feminist heroine. Not an everyday hero. She is a difficult to recognise extreme character. It felt like a shallow deptiction. She reminded me of the well meaning outlaws in US westerns, betrayed by the system they operate outside it. Masculinised roles resorting to violence and activities outside of the law to achieve their own ends. The book had an angle that appeared to celebrate the international crisis of violence against women by making it into the core theme for a piece of entertainment.

Knopf’s assessment of Stieg’s writing style ‘To call the dialogue wooden would be an insult to longbows and violins’ suggests to me that Knopf”s not spent much time in the company of Scandinavians. It doesn’t recognise that there are differences in the way they think, see and value things.  Steig doesn’t provide long adjective strings and rich emotional descriptions. Steig tells you what is happening and lets you bring your interpretation to the framework he supplies. I found Steig’s writing style engaging, though the last part of the plot lost my interest.

I wont be reading the next 2 books in the series, 500 pages of a shallow cartoonish, masculinised heroine for womanhood was enough for me.

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