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Recent Reading: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - Mo's Journal
August 24th, 2011
04:25 pm

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Recent Reading: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
So, I finally read the first of Stieg Larsson's Milennium trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I really enjoyed it! It's exciting and fun to read and I did not find the violence particularly hard to take. I'd resisted reading it for a long time because several people told me they found it difficult to read because it is so violent. I thought it was about middling for the thriller and murder mystery genres. It was graphic, but it didn't keep me up at night.

I'm kind of surprised, though, that this book is a best seller here. I would have thought that most USAmericans would find it kind of inaccessible. It's full of unfamiliar people and places and they mostly (places and people) have names that I assume I and most Americans would mispronounce. The main character is Mikael Blomkvist - I have some guesses on how to pronounce his name, but I'm likely wrong. There is a male character named Birger (his first name, and generally how he's referred to) and a female character named Berger (her last name, but how she is generally referred to). Someone writing in English likely wouldn't give two characters such similar names but maybe they're not so close when you say them in Swedish?

It's also full of stuff about Swedish places and customs and politics and so on, not written in a way that it's explained to the reader, since it wasn't written for Americans. I found all that fine and thought it made the book more interesting, but it took me a while to figure things out, like the fact that the tunnelbana is the Stockholm subway system or that KonSum is a grocery store chain. The plot deals in part with international finance, but only once - and at the end of the book - does the translation render an amount in dollars as well as in kroner. There are references to Swedish holidays, literature (not just Pippi Longstocking, which Americans would know), the assassination of Olof Palme, etc. I think it would be fine for most readers of science fiction, who expect to not understand everything in the first few pages of the book, but most Americans aren't readers of sci-fi. It's the book-buying American populace who made Dan Brown rich, a man who invented the word "symbology" because he thought Americans couldn't be trusted to learn to understand the real term: semiotics.


I am also intrigued by the translation, which is an odd hodgepodge of UK and US words and usage. The translator is an American who translates for both the UK and US market and he used his UK pseudonym in translating this one. It has UK spelling of words like "defence" but US punctuation. It uses a number of British colloquialisms (maybe on purpose to sound "foreign"?) but gives temperatures in farenheit and distances in miles, which couldn't have been in the original. They seem like peculiar choices to me. I would have thought that a readership that can be trusted with KonSum and Sandhamn and tunnelbana could be relied upon to figure out Celsius and kilometers, particularly since the weather is described in detail and how long it takes people to get from place to place is also generally described.

The translated title is also interesting. The Swedish title translates as Men Who Hate Women but the American title is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The second book in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire is a direct translation of the Swedish title. I think a decision was likely made to have a coherent brand by making the titles all start with "The Girl". In addition, I think "Men Who Hate Women" sounds to American ears like a pop psych non-fiction book, not a novel.

Aside from translation and Swedish atmosphere I found the book itself quite absorbing. It had a couple of plot flaws but mostly it was well-plotted and well-paced and quite exciting! I found the solution to the murder mystery both surprising and satisfying. The characters are intriguing. Blomkvist himself is very much a Mary Sue, but an endearing one. And "the girl" herself is fascinating and intriguing. I can't wait to find how she plays with fire in the next book.

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