Critics and literary pundits wonder if the story has the makings of a classic. I am merely suspicious of phenomena that take popular attention by storm. Such was my skepticism about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. What is it about the story that is capturing people’s imagination? Is it the mystery and controversy surrounding the author’s life, legacy and death? Is it the very modern twenty-first century sensibility that makes us so eager to stick with the book and keeps it alive for us long after we get to the last page?
I have just spent two weeks and one evening of my life immersed in Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander’s world. It took me took two weeks to get through the book because I did it in audio form. The version I indulged in was somewhere around sixteen hours of listening time. I was only able to listen to it for about an hour and half a day and some of that involved much backing up to get straight the geneology of the Vanger family and details about economics and business that normally go over my head at the best of times. When I was half-way through the book, I was certain I had solved the mystery of the Vangers or more accurately certain that this was as common a crime novel as any that I had ever read. Maybe, I was thinking, it’s on a par with In Cold Blood, and certainly not worth any bigger fuss than that. (Though admittedly, the fuss In Cold Blood caused was considerable.) I groaned with disappointment when the author, for example, assures us that although Salander will sleep with anyone that the fates choose to present to her, she has a decided preference for the male of the species. Ok – she’s bisexual – but not too bisexual. I also thought the author belied a patronizing pseudo-feminist sensibility by giving us a character stunning in her intellectual curiosity and brilliance, who is also only twenty-four, so he could have the inevitable affair with the pixie waif. Why not make her forty-four? Well then her four foot eleven aloof taciturn non-conformance would have been about as alluring as a gorilla on her period. (I found myself asking what becomes of a forty-four or fifty-four year old female hackivist anyway?)
The second half of the book definitely held my interest. There is indeed a complexity and depth to Larsson’s story telling and characters that I wasn’t expecting. It is not an ordinary murder mystery. It is a treatise on morality, ethics and justice masquerading as a thriller. These are are almost real people dealing with real life difficult questions. I was pleasantly surprised that though the mysteries and subplots are neatly wrapped up at the end of the book, all the questions and problems of life and love and justice are left as confoundedly open ended as they were before the prologue began.
Now I had to satisfy my curiosity about the film, so I prepared Special K to join me for the almost three hour movie. This was a much more disappointing experience, as bits of the story were changed, timeframes condensed, and some characters completely eliminated. I did enjoy knowing the outcome and being able to answer Special K’s questions without revealing anything that might ruin her surprise. Blomkvist and Salander are true to Larsson’s creations, as are many of the Vanger clan. So much, however, is left out in the film that Special K wondered how we kept getting from here to there. She was left with a bad taste in her mouth about Salander and her guardian. To someone who has not read the book, that particular subplot is completely gratuitous, unnecessary and inexplicably disturbing. (As though it is not disturbing enough as Larsson intended it). The story was hacked, chopped, and revised to keep the more gruesome bits in the forefront. I’ll never forgive the filmmakers even though they tried to preserve the spirit of the complexities. I wish that the story had instead been made into a multi-part miniseries that kept all the intricacies of and faithfulness to the original plot. That would have made for showing all the character and plot development that would have had the viewer travelling down numerous paths of red herrings as the reader does.
Links : http://nplusonemag.com/man-who-blew-up-welfare-state, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Girl_with_the_Dragon_Tattoo, http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2009/12/hitchens-200912?currentPage=all,