The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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I was staggering around the local used bookstore the other day. Actually, it’s the only bookstore of any kind—new, used, or rare—for many miles around and it tends to run toward bestsellers, romance, cats, and cappuccino, but every now and then I find something I’ve been hoping to read, or some gem I hadn’t even heard of. I found two novels by William Trevor, whom I adore, a Carlos Fuentes, whom I also love, and a copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I had hoped to see the movie version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I was very impressed with the trailers I saw, all dark and moody, with an implied threat of danger, and the compelling presence of Daniel Craig and a clearly anti-social counter-culture girl with bizarrely black hair and, of course, a dragon tattoo. It looked like the kind of movie that might appeal to me, which is pretty much why I didn’t see it.

Movies that appeal to me rarely come to our little town, and when they do, it’s for a brief run. Our theater (five little screening rooms packed into a space about the size of the restroom in your theater) caters to its clientele, as it must, and its clientele is the same as the rest of America’s: teenagers bursting with hormones, no pre-frontal cortex, and raised on violent video games. I have zero interest in comedies that would insult the intelligence of a cocker spaniel, and even less interest in movies that have replaced character and plot with special effects and mindless violence, so I don’t often go to the movies. If The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came to our town, its visit was so brief I missed it, so I snapped up the book.

I can see why the book was such a success. I found the opening very effective: an old man calling an equally old retired cop about an on-going mystery that has plagued them both for over forty years. After that, things got a little uneven.

Clearly, there must be salient aspects of Swedish society and the Swedish legal system that are and shall remain a mystery to me (at least I hope the legal system will), so I have to assume things that puzzled me make perfect sense to Scandinavian readers. Why, for instance, is there a prison sentence for libel, while in neighboring Norway a man can kill seventy-seven people and only receive a twenty-one year sentence? Maximum. And if there is a prison sentence for libel, why is it delayed for many months? In American, if you’re sentenced for a felony, you start serving your time immediately. How can a girl who is capable of earning a very handsome living be adjudged mentally incapable of handling her own affairs and considered a ward of society for the rest of her life? No matter how anti-social, how can a girl who is a uniquely gifted genius, in a very progressive society filled with highly educated and well-intentioned professionals, be found mentally incompetent in the first place? How come the Swedish police seem never to have heard of DNA? How come…

Oh, never mind. An author creates a fantasy world, and if that world is convincing enough, we will happily join him there. And I did, even as these and many other questions arose. But I stayed in that world to the last page only because of the girl. Lisbeth Salander is a compelling and unique creation, refreshingly outside of the mainstream of Swedish society, or any society, making her way through a dangerous world with brains, courage, initiative, and—in an odd sort of way—sex appeal. Or perhaps an anti-sex appeal that is appealing. But there, I’m afraid, any comparison to the movie trailers ends. Daniel Craig is very compelling actor, packed to the gills with charisma and a hard edge that hints at potential violence. It’s part of what makes him the only Bond worth watching since Sean Connery. It’s part of why I wanted to see the movie version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But his character in the book, Mikael Blomkvist, is what Germans call a Waschlappen. Literally, it means a washcloth, but it also means a weak and spineless person, a milksop. I have a hard time imaging Daniel Craig playing a Waschlappen. The character of Blomkvist, in the book, is so colorless, so cerebral and detached, so much the antithesis of compelling, that he became irritating, and unfortunately, the primary theme (sexual violence against women), the plot, the action, everything, only really works when we follow Lisbeth. But I would love to see the movie and see how the director, David Fincher, handled that.

I’ll have to rent it, but if Daniel Craig’s character turns out to be as detached on film as he is in the book, I won’t bother watching the whole thing.

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