26 July 2009

Book of many stories

Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I was standing in front of the "Best Sellers" rack of paperbacks while waiting for a prescription to be filled. I was next to a grocery store pharmacy.

Although the store now has some organic produce and a partial row of other organic products, it's still a middle/working class store that emphasizes thrift and large-sized cans of vegetables and Miracle Whip more than a wide selection of breads, cheeses, or sliced meats. Thirty years ago the store was called Erickson's. Then for a couple decades it was known as More 4. (The 4 was for four stores in one, but I could only ever count three. Maybe there was something out back I didn't know about.) Nowadays, it's called EconoFoods. Same corporate ownership all those years. Recently I noticed that a branch of the store in Hudson, Wisconsin, formerly called EconoFoods has a new name. I guess someone's still looking for corporate identity.

That's where I was when the eye-catching cover of Stieg Larsson's book caught my eye. It was in the #8 slot of best sellers, but the bar code sticker on the back said, "Best Seller #16 Expries July 30." However, the cash register receipt said I bought "Hanna Montana" in the "GM and Health Beauty" section. I guess someone's still looking for inventory and accounting identity.

In the back of my mind, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, rang a quiet bell. I'd read something about this book, but couldn't remember what I'd read or where I'd read it. The blurb on the back cover offered, "a murder mystery, family saga, love story, and a tale of financial ingtrigue wrapped into one satisfyingly complex and entertainingly atmospheric novel." I was headed for a quiet weekend at Sidetrack which everyone expected would be rainy, so I bought the book and some orange juice along with medication that promises to help me combat my hyper-lipidemia.

What an incredible luxury. Time to do nothing but read. Saturday was indeed a cool rainy day at the lake. Nancy and I were up early and headed to the neighborhood coffee shop (Cafe Wren in Luck), 15 miles up the road, for breakfast and an e-mail check-in.

When we got back to Little Blake, I opened up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It's a 640-page book. By page 110, I told Nancy that I was hooked and wanted to finish the book. At the time, I didn't think I'd finish this weekend. There's usually a lot of competition for attention what with bald eagles, loons, kingfishers, garden flowers and weeds, and chores.

The rain persisted, off and on, most of Saturday. I was able to spend some time with neighbors during rainless interludes, but mostly I read. I watched the sun go down behind the clouds as I read. I got up to stretch after dark and discovered that it was 11:15PM.

I brushed my teeth, took my prescribed medication, and crawled into bed. Sometime later, I learned who one of the real bad guys was, I put the book down.

Sunday morning I paddled the canoe around the lake, poured myself a big glass of orange juice, made some coffee, and started reading again. I finished the book just after noon.

Recommendation enough?

How about that the author came from Sweden, but his attitude doesn't quite match the misanthropic perspective of that other Swede I've read recently, Henning Mankell. In fact, in spite of one of the main themes (in Sweden the book and the movie based on the book are titled, Men Who Hate Women), there's little in Larsson's book like the dyspeptic view of life that Mankell seems to live sourly with.

The translation by Reg Keeland is quite good and very much in American English. There are a few strange things in the translation and some things just don't translate well. ("After the meeting Blomkvist had coffee with Malm at Java on Horngatspuckeln.")

The mystery revolves around a teenager who disappeared 40 years before the story told in this book. The cast of characters includes a large Swedish clan descended from a very successful 19th century industrialist. The hired investigators are a discredited journalist and a self-taught, tattooed, pierced, punk polymath.

Larsson tells several side and back stories in this huge book, but the pace never lags. I didn't keep all the family names straight, but I never kept all the names in my own family straight either. I never got confused, but I also never felt I was being talked down to by the author or the characters.

If you have read other of my commentaries, you know I don't have a lot of patience with incredible things in realistic fiction. The last story Larsson tells in this book is incredible. I wish he'd left it out. Well, I wish his editor had dumped it. I'll buy a self-taught, neurotic polymath, but not one who does the things described in the last story. It's just too much.

In spite of that, I'm ready to read Larsson's next book (it's due out in hardcover now). I rather expected the discredited and rehabilitated journalist to be the main character of the second book. I'm not sure that's true. According to the chapter published in this volume, it's the punk polymath.

There won't be many books. Larsson died in 2004 after handing three manuscripts to his agent.

The paperback edition of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came out in June 2009 in the U.S. The library might have a copy, but you'll probably have to hang out near the rack of paperback best sellers to find a copy. I think it will be worth it.

See also:


Ken Wedding said...

Dan Conrad wrote:

A quick note to say I read Girl With the Dragon Tattoo sometime last year and liked it a great deal. I have this little rating system and I gave it 4.5 out of 5 which I never give to mysteries--except for Smila's Sense of Snow, Murphy's Law, and one or two by Karin Fossum. Oh, I did later stick in a "6" indicating I would like to read it again but that's reserved for things like Middlemarch, Cousin Bette, etc. and just one modern novel: Elegance of the Hedgehog

Ken Wedding said...

Florence Thompson of big, beautiful Texas wrote, "I picked up one of the books from your reading blog... The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. Loved it. Read 100 pages one day and finished it the next. Spent the whole day in my pajamas on the couch. Hunting for the next one...

"Thanks for the recommendation."

She also pointed out the Guardian (UK) article about the legal fights that followed Larsson's death. Read Stieg Larsson, the bestselling socialist militant. I really wouldn't expect this from Sweden.