I am going to make two confessions here. One is that I was avoiding Steig Larsson’s Millenium trilogy like the plague because the sort of uber-frenzied mania surrounding it always irritates me, but I was still quite curious. The second is that I only picked up this book because I saw the movie last week and wanted to see how it compared. More specifically, after spending a good chunk of the movie with my face buried in my roommate’s shoulder, I wanted to see why in the world so many middle-aged women would flock to such graphic material.
I saw the movie because it got such rave reviews and I thought that it might be a good way to satisfy my Larsson curiosity without getting my hands too dirty. Holy cow, this was a good movie. Graphic, yes (I did, after all, spend a significant amount of time with my face in the roommate’s shoulder), but wonderfully made nonetheless. A compelling mystery investigated by two compelling protagonists, I was completely engrossed and found myself genuinely unable to predict too much of the outcome. Always a good thing with murder mysteries.
So, for those of you not in the know, the plot, in a nutshell, is this: Mikael Blomqvist is a Swedish journalist who has gotten himself in some legal trouble by supposedly libeling one the nation’s most powerful and shady corporate titans. Before reporting for jail, he is summoned to the countryside by Henrik Vanger, a member of one of Sweden’s wealthiest and most dysfunctional families. Henrik’s teenaged niece, Harriet, went missing forty years earlier, and Henrik wants Blomqvist to give the case a final crack. Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander is a seriously wounded, borderline sociopathic, hacker/personal security consultant hired by one of Henrik’s lackies to look into Blomqvist’s past. Fully convinced of his innocence in the whole libel situation, Salander is unable to get Blomqvist out of her mind and finds herself spying on his investigation. The two eventually meet face-to-face and form an unlikely partnership as they work to uncover one of Sweden’s most gruesome serial killers - and track down Harriet.
For the most part, the movie stayed true to the book. Some of the more horrifically graphic scenes (particularly the, count ‘em, three rape scenes) in the movie actually played a smaller role in the book than I anticipated. A few minor scenes were trimmed out, a few clues slightly modified, a few extraneous Vangers discarded in the transition to the big screen. I felt all of these changes actually improved the story. The most significant cut, though, was a good deal of the background — and the aftermath — involving Blomqvisit’s libel conviction. While it served to explain why Blomqvist would be willing to take on such a seemingly impossible case, the storyline seemed to drag on in the book. In fact, the book continues on for more than a hundred pages after Blomqvist and Salander solve the central mystery. Larsson is surely setting up The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second book in the trilogy, but I found myself wishing that he would just let it lie.
That is, ultimately, the biggest flaw in this book. While I enjoyed the story that Larsson told, I felt that he could have benefitted from some serious editing. Perhaps because the book was published posthumously, publishers felt that too many changes might be disrespectful? I’m not sure. Larsson gives the reader way too much exposition about insignificant details, and I found myself thinking that a good editor should have told him to trim it down a bit. I skimmed through large chunks of the book, correctly assuming that the movie had given me enough knowledge that I wouldn’t miss much.
The third installment of the series hits US bookstores next month, but I honestly don’t know if I’ll be picking up the sequels. In a strange twist, I’d almost rather not spoil the movies once they finally come out here in the States.