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April 27th, 2012

Duality: The Tale of Two Novels in One

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Buzz books: sometimes they live up to their hype; oftentimes, they do not. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's case, Larsson presents a work which is clearly divided into two distinct sections. The first half of the novel is background information. It sets up the mystery and the main characters, but little actual action takes place. The audience doesn't see the events occur. Rather, they're related to readers in a very dry, uneventful manner. Then, the second half of the novel begins when the two main characters finally meet and team up together. From this point on, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo becomes fast paced. Answers to the investigation begin to emerge, and, perhaps more importantly, character development occurs. However, the intrigue of the second half of the novel cannot make up for the dullness of the first half. Whereas I read the final 300 pages in a single day, it took me seven months to read what came before that. Larsson would have been better served to begin the novel mid-way into the mystery and then slowly reveal the backstory as the two leads investigated together, combining the action with the information.

With this said, what is
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo about? First, there's Mikael Blomkvist – a disgraced journalist who has just been convicted of libel. He is approached by a wealthy ex-CEO of one of Sweden’s largest conglomerates to, as a front, write his memoirs while in all actuality Blomkvist would be investigating the disappearance/death of his employer's favorite great-niece, Harriet. Eventually, he is joined by social recluse and hacker, Lisbeth Salander, and together they uncover the shockingly sick and demented web of a sociopathic serial killer... or two. To make matters even more complicated, both Blomkvist and Salander's presents are shaped by their complicated pasts, and they must wade the treacherous waters of an extremely wealthy yet dysfunctional family while investigating Harriet Vanger's case. Then things really get interesting when Mikael and Salander sleep together.

This – their relationship – is by far the most compelling aspect of
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which makes the fact that the characters do not meet face-to-face until the second half of the novel even more egregious of a mistake on Larssen's part. Complete opposites who are also separated by age and circumstances, Blomkvist and Salander, on paper, make no sense as a couple, yet they work. He helps her grow, proves to her that there are people in the world worthy of her trust, and she gives him back his edge – allowing Mikael to once again learn to trust himself. Perhaps this makes me a cliché – favoring a mystery novel's romance over its actual mystery, but consider this: whereas the dynamics forged between Blomkvist and Salander will be present in both the author's subsequent novels, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo resolves Harriet Vanger's case.

Speaking of the rest of the series, if someone would have asked me two days ago if I would read
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's two follow up novels – The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest, my response would have been no. Now, one day and 300 pages of excellent writing which regrettably was not found throughout the entire novel later, and my answer has changed.

Three out of Five Stars

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