a month ago, over 40 million copies of the late Stieg Larsson's trilogy had sold worldwide in over 40 languages. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the first book ever to sell over a million copies in the Kindle edition. Subtitled Swedish-language films of the first two books have been playing in the United States this year, and the third installment is scheduled for release in about six weeks. At the end of 2011 Columbia Pictures plans to release a U.S. version of Dragon, with the others to follow.
I finally succumbed to massive cultural pressure and the urging of my friends: I put The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on hold at the library (I was number 68 in line). While I was checking it out last week, the woman who scanned my card advised me, "Read 100 pages before forming any judgment about the book. It has a slow start."
Yesterday afternoon I finished all 590 pages, and I can now say that she was right. What she didn't tell me was that it has a slow ending too. For the last 100 pages or so I kept thinking of the time I flew into Boston at night under heavy fog. The plane had descended for several minutes when suddenly it leaped upward. We flew for a while longer, descended again, leaped upward again. The pilot took the microphone and said, "I could have sworn there was a runway down there."
In the middle of the book, though, there was plenty of suspense, violence, sex, international money laundering, gadgets, psychopaths, computer hacking, organized crime, sadism, and Swedish scenery.
If you are one of the three people in the world who has not yet read any books by Larsson, and if you think that maybe you don't want to bother, Janet Potter's kick-ass September 10 review, Stieg Larsson: Swedish Narcissus, will give you plenty of reasons to avoid them. Her comments on Larsson's writing style are perceptive, though I'm willing to allow a writer of thrillers a lot of editorial leeway. At the end of her review, however, she raises an objection that troubled me more and more the further I got into the book: Michael is not as nice to female characters as he thinks he is.
On the one hand, Mikael is a kind man who sees women as equal human beings and treats them with dignity. At least that's what Stieg Larsson tells us, and the description seems important to him. After all, the name of the book's Swedish edition is Men Who Hate Women, and every section of the book features a statistical epigraph on the topic ("Eighteen percent of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man"). I don't think it's a spoiler to say that revenge against women-haters is the book's major theme.
On the other hand Mikael, though he apparently is never physically violent with women, is known as a womanizer. His wife divorced him because of a long-standing affair he was carrying on while married to her, so he rarely sees his daughter, now a teenager (he admits he's a lousy father). The marriage-breaking affair is with a married woman whose husband does not seem to object, though the woman can get a bit huffy when she walks in on Mikael in bed with yet another woman. While engaged in investigative journalism / detection, Mikael beds a lonely woman who is part of the group he's investigating, and their short affair seems to leave her shaken and bereft. He also beds the young woman who works for him, while admitting he's old enough to be her father. She gives him her heart, and he apparently breaks it.
Is this how a defender of the female gender behaves?
Unless I am suddenly faced with a very long airplane trip, I don't think I'll read the other two books. I'd like to know what happens to the spunky revenge princess Liz Salander, but I've had about enough of Mikael.