Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Charming Journalist, Corrupt Corporations and Lisbeth Salander (The Millennium Series)

Okay, so by now I'm sure that everyone has heard of the phenomenon that is "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". The new film has recently been released and there have been multiple discussions about the series.

                             Amazon /                                  Amazon /

So, the series contains three books; "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"; "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest". They were written by Swedish author Stieg Larsson and were released in 2004. Unfortunately, Larsson never got to see what a huge success his books became, as he passed away in 2004 at age 50 of a heart attack.

First Paragraph: (From The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)

"It happened every year, was almost a ritual. And this was his eighty-second birthday. When, as usual, the flower was delivered, he took off the wrapping paper and then picked up the telephone to call Detective Superintendent Morell, who, when he retired, had moved to Lake Siljan in Dalarna. They were not only the same age, they had been born on the same day- which was something of an irony under the circumstances. The old policeman was sitting with his coffee, waiting, expecting the call."

It should be noted as well, that the Swedish title for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is translated as "Men Who Hate Women". Sure it's less prose-like, but it fits the series better in my opinion. Although, I do have to agree that the English title is just a better hook. Though, my problem with it is:
1. It is not the original title (but fair enough) and
2. The dragon tattoo is never explained and is in fact not a core part in the books. It's just a tattoo that Lisbeth has. We never find out when she got it, whether it represents anything or anything about it at all. All we know is that it hurt to get and is on her back/ shoulder blade. But hey, it makes for good cinematography.

Now, this is just a little side note, but I absolutely love this version of the cover art. All the details in it are amazing. For those who own these books, have you noticed that on the back covers at the top it says, "Issue 1 (or whatever the book number is) Millennium Magazine"? Great little detail.

Okay so some background on the books themselves. Well, they're predominately crime novels. The best of the best. In terms of what kind of crime novel they are? They're a mix of murder mystery and corporate and government scandal. Describing what the books are about is hard, as there are so many different story lines going on that it would take a while, but in the most pure terms of description then
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is about: (courtesy of the blurb)

"The Industrialist
Henrik Vanger, head of the dynastic Vanger Corporation, is tormented by the loss of a child decades earlier and convinced that a member of his family has committed murder.

The Journalist
Mikael Blomkvist delves deep into the Vangers' past to uncover the truth behind the unsolved mystery. But someone else wants the past to remain a secret and will go to any lengths to keep it that way.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Lisbeth Salander, the enigmatic, delinquent and dangerous security specialist, assists in the investigation. A genius computer hacker, she tolerates no restrictions placed upon her by individuals, society or the law."

Okay, so I'm not going to put the blurbs for the other books up because they might contain spoilers, but onto the review.

So, just a little bit about the flow of the books and the time frames that each of them are set in relation to one another. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is the first and most unrelated to the others. It's more of an introduction to the characters and their relationships. Don't get me wrong, it's a great book in itself and is definitely going to keep you hooked and wanting to read the next two books, but the plot line isn't really carried on into the next books. Elements of the first book are brought into the next two, but only little things.
However, I do think that the first book is the best in the series, just in terms of the ending. I'm not going to give it away to those who don't know, but I will say that the ending is amazing. Larsson has an incredible ability to be able to start with several seemingly unconnected threads, that he slowly brings together into one story. It's fascinating to watch as the connections are made. Some are ones I guessed were coming, but others were almost out of nowhere, and the ending definitely keeps you guessing till the end.

" The Girl Who Played with Fire" takes place a year after the end of the first book. So a large portion of it is catching up with our characters, as well as the introduction of new ones. This is the book where I would say the actual story begins. The first book is almost like a one-shot and the next two are where the mysteries start to get explained and we find out how many bad men there really are in the world. And in Larsson's books it is always men. He very much plays the women as victims, which may be a reason why he has so many powerful female characters in his books. To be fair, he was very much trying to prove a point, and it may be of interest that when he was 15, Larsson witnessed a gang-rape of a young woman, who interestingly enough was called Lisbeth.
And finally, the last book in the trilogy is "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest". It takes place right after the end of the second book, which ends on a cliffhanger. And of course, this is where we finally get our answers and discover the entire truth.

Now onto the characters. I thought they were very well rounded and intriguing. And I made that all important connection with a lot of them, that makes you care about their fate and upsets you if they suffer or die. However, I didn't feel that with all of the characters. There are a LOT of them, and it would be hard to get us to care that much about each and every one. There are also a lot of deaths in these books, which are shocking, it's true, and I did feel bad that about some of the deaths- but that may have been partly down to how violent and brutal they are. I cannot think of a single death that wasn't. Well, except for one, but that was a long drawn out death that can't have been pleasant.
Personally, Larsson did a great job at getting us to care about the pivotal characters, but more than that, he made us want them to care about each other. Not necessarily in a romantic sense, but there is a large amount of the story where the two main characters have no interaction at all, and I missed them playing off each other.
I'd be interested to know whether Larsson himself was anything like Blomkvist. Larsson was a journalist himself (at a magazine called "Expo") and the magazine was in the same financial crisis as "Millennium". So, I'd like to know what other similarities they had, if any.
I know that Lisbeth has been described as a unique character and indeed she is, at least in terms of any heroine I've read about or watched. She is a little hard to relate to, simple because her personality is on the extreme side, but for good reason. But I think what works best about the characters is that they are flawed. They are in no means perfect and are indubitably human. They are believable characters, which is definitely saying something in Lisbeth's case.

I did, however, have a few criticisms. Like others have said, the books can be a bit slow moving and there are long pages of description about Sweden's past that can be a little confusing for those of us who don't know much about it. Now, I do think it works in this book, just because there is so much going on that it needs a lot of description, but it can feel like overwhelming. In one of the books, Lisbeth is in hospital and remains in the same bed for 500 pages. But, on another note, the last 100 pages of each book is always very fast-paced and will have you on the edge of your seat, unable to sleep until you reach the conclusion.
Another criticism is that there are a lot of names- be it places or people- and it can be hard to remember them all, especially from the point of view of someone who has never been to Sweden and doesn't speak Swedish. But, even if they were all in my first language, I still think I'd have trouble remembering them all. And in each book more are added. You do get to know what the recurring characters names or place names are, but I found myself often confusing them, and thinking that it was a different character or place.
My last one is Camilla. She is mentioned quite a few times, but never really explained. And in the end, we never really find out anything about her except that she is "listed as living abroad". I don't know if Larsson was perhaps planning to write another series or book about Camilla, but it would have been nice to learn more about her.
But these criticisms are pretty small compared to all the ways I can compliment this series.

Now the overall ending. I think it was very well written. I will say that (for the most part) we know how it's going to end on the whole. Maybe not what will happen with all the characters, but the main plot line is predictable- although Larsson pulls that off as a good thing. If it had ended any other way, the books would never have been as good as they are. The ending, afterall, is all about justice and there was really only one way to achieve that. And the way it's told is so satisfying. As the net is slowly tightened and the "bad men" start to realise what's going on. And if you're worried that not all the questions will be answered, fear not. All the loose strings are then explained and tied up with the rest.

I do have one more thing to add. This is one of those series where having read the series really makes a difference to the way you view all the characters if you re-read it. Knowing everything about each individual and exactly what's going to happen brings a new light to it and you notice little things and hints that you missed the first time around. I know that's true of pretty much everything, but I think it's especially true for this series. Maybe because we know so little about our main character that, when the blanks are finally all filled in, she almost becomes a completely different person.

I would absolutely recommend this book. I think it caters to a wide range of wants, and it can be enjoyed by people of all personalities, both men and women alike- which is hard to do. I will say that there should probably be an age restriction though, just because the content is not really suitable for younger readers and there is a lot of violence. Other than that, read these books. I was introduced to them by my cousin, read the first book and instantly went out to buy the series. You really can't not get hooked by it. And the books raise an interesting question. If you were in Lisbeth Salander's place, what would you do?

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