Swedish Mystery Catches Interest

by Mindy Borie
Columnist

This week heralds the advent of a new feature here at The Rambler — a regular book review column! In case the concept is totally foreign to you, here’s the general idea: I read books and then write what I thought of them. Although by definition a review of a creative work is subjective, I’m going to try to make my criteria obvious, because no one is entertained or informed by a review which says that “‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ was a stupid book that should be burned,” which isn’t even how I felt about it.

In case you’ve been living in Siberia for the last year and don’t know anyone who’s read the Swedish blockbuster “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” here’s the premise: A reporter named Mikael Blomkvist, for one convoluted reason or another, ends up on the payroll of an eccentric millionaire looking into his niece’s decades-old disappearance. The book is the first in the “Millennium” trilogy (named for Blomkvist’s magazine), published posthumously by Stieg Larsson and originally titled “Men Who Hate Women,” which should give you a clue about the kinds of crimes depicted in the novel.

If you haven’t been spoiled, you’ll be surprised to note that the titular girl — Lisbeth Salander — barely appears in the book for the first hundred pages or so. For easily half the 400-page book, she deals exclusively with her own subplot and does not interact with Blomkvist or the other main characters in any way. While Blomkvist is exiled on the Vanger family’s secluded island (Isn’t there always a secluded island?) interviewing the increasingly bizarre family members to determine which if any killed Harriet all those years ago, Lisbeth is picking out a new computer and seeking (admittedly wicked fierce) revenge on a man who had wronged her.

The nature of this wrong is a theme the book (and presumably its sequels) is obsessed with: sexual abuse. If rape is a trigger for you, this might be a book to stay away from. Many of the male characters hate women and show this in graphically violent ways. The novel does not glorify violence against women — far from it — but the depiction is startling nonetheless. This fascination with sex crimes comes from an incident in Larsson’s childhood when he witnessed a rape. This inspired in him the deep disgust of sexual assault which is evident in his work. Each section of the book begins with a statistic — the percentage of women in Sweden who have been assaulted by a man, how many have gone unreported and so on. It makes a nice tie-in to the plot of the novel.

As for the book itself, I didn’t love it. Its style was a little matter-of-fact for me, which didn’t allow me to connect emotionally with the characters. I decided that I will read the sequels but that I will not pay for them; I’m intrigued enough to want to know what happens in subsequent books but not enough to own them.

I’d like to end this column with a call to arms: If any of you know a book you would like to see reviewed in The Rambler, please send to me at maborie12@transy.edu its title and author as well as a brief description including why you would like it reviewed. I can’t promise to honor all requests but I’m very interested in what you have to say. So long until next week.

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