Originally published 2005
Written by Steig Larsson
Review by Grace Curtis
I’m a girl of simple tastes. I like my sugar sweet, my water wet and my thrillers… well, thrilling. Despite the endless hype, my expectations for this book were not sky-high. I just wanted something readable to take on holiday. What I got instead was the drag of my life.
After an interesting setup (journalist hired to investigate decades old murder), the plot to Steig Larsson’s international sensation makes like a cheap firework and fails to take off. Our hero Blomkvist wanders around a small Swedish village for what feels like five hundred pages — taking breaks to have sex with a local, of course. Despite being well into his fifties and about as interesting as a cup of lukewarm milk, Blomkvist is apparently utterly irresistible to every woman he meets. Go figure.
But I’m forgetting the big draw of the novel, aren’t I? While Blomkvist is busy doing sod all, the story is driven by the escapades of everybody’s favourite bright young psychopath, Lisbeth Salander. A cardboard cut-out rebel-with-a-troubled-past, Slander is so aggressively different from other women that the author needs to explicitly remind us every five minutes. She’s still pretty of course but it’s all unconventional. Groundbreaking feminist material. I understand that being realistic and/or relatable aren’t requirements in a good character, but Salander never reaches the level of unbelievable required to be fun. She toes the line between gritty realism and entertaining cliché, never committing enough to either for my liking.
Salander’s story brings up my biggest problem with this book: Larsson uses excessive violence, usually against women, to spice up the meandering plot. The fact that Slander takes gory revenge upon her particular attacker is just an extension of this – not some victorious form of empowerment. Rather than being swept along on the edge of my seat, I spent most of the novel alternating between nauseated shock and flat-out boredom. The climax was surprising, at least. Not clever, just surprising.
If aliens had been behind the murder on the Orient Express it would have been a surprise as well.
The novel closes (spoiler alert!) with Salander heartbroken after seeing Bloomvkist with another woman. That’s right, folks. Even she isn’t impervious to his mediocre charm. God knows how their relationship would ever develop, but I’m not planning to find out. I’ll be avoiding the two sequels like the plague.
In short, if you want a good read over the summer, find yourself a crime novel that’s trashy and proud. Pretensions of maturity are the real killer in this overrated ‘modern classic’.