THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was particularly riddled with “issues,” so but here’s why I believe it resonated with so many readers, regardless of its miscues:
Above all else THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was often convoluted and discursive, yet the two protagonists could not have been more disparate yet more alike. I wonder if Mr. Larsson really planned it this way at the outset or if Mikael and Lisbeth evolved? I have to believe the latter, as I’m not of the opinion that anyone is this smart “out of the box.” Regardless, here is a story with an abundance of thin plot elements that hang together because of the two lead characters having to constantly overcome their personal struggles with just about everything they touch. Humans understand this. Folks also identify with the aspects of life that aren’t always–if ever–rosy. For all of the marginal editing (that’s being polite) and difficulty with the translation from Swedish to English, a lot of men recognize male carnality (I’m not saying “accept” it, only recognize it as real) in Mikael’s dalliances with anyone female who can still fog a mirror, while I believe that a large percentage of women are somewhere between sympathetic to empathetic regarding Lisbeth’s inability to fit in with societal norms. If we were to switch the roles, is it inaccurate to assume that some women look for physical attention wherever they can find it, as their everyday lives are so consuming that they have no time to build relationships? Paralleling this, is it ridiculous to assume that a segment of the male population endures the same anguish as Lisbeth?
Is it also fair to say that everyone, regardless of gender, has felt like Lisbeth at one time or another? How about often? I don’t want to give away plot elements, should anyone wish to read the book, but while parsing Lisbeth’s intro is she really so far out in left field for a great many people her age? Again, for either a male or a female (and why I consider the salient aspects of her personality issues genderless), haven’t most of us had to struggle with Lisbeth’s Syndrome, as I’ll now call it, at different points in our lives–sometimes subliminally and in other instances controlling all our waking thought processes as well? It’s the balancing of these pushing and pulling facets of one’s psyche that determines who’s sane and who’s not. I’m hardly capable of evaluating one or the other, but Lisbeth gives many readers a character to identify with. And I found this as honest as anything I’ve read in a long while. If this book had been written when Sarte was alive, I’d love to read his opinion of Lisbeth.
Once all the detritus is scraped off the deep end of the pool, the reader of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is faced with a beautifully constructed jigsaw puzzle, not the least of which involves the way Mr. Larsson brings Lisbeth and Mikael together, no small task considering, again, the disparate nature of their characters. And on the plotting side, once the mystery of not knowing who’s in the crowd during the parade is presented to the reader, how is it possible not to want to learn the answer? I found this entire segment brilliantly developed, and the twists and turns surrounding this a major thrill ride. Again, I don’t want to give away specific plot elements, but this was classic “I have to know” material. In the latter fourth of the narrative, Mikael’s less-than-desirable–and now obvious–lack of ability to form anything but physical relationships with members of the opposite sex is evident. Conversely, Lisbeth begins to display a “human” side. Her “change” was not overdone, which I found incredibly well designed, as it would have been very easy to overwrite her transformation.
However, from a technical perspective, here is what I found most extraordinary about this work: The story, which was strongly character-driven for three-fourths of the narrative, became plot-driven as the tale entered its final150 pages–and remained so until the end. Yes, the entire corporate section–from start to finish–could have been eliminated, as it’s a separate storyline that added nothing to the “real” narrative, but this has little if anything to do with my contention, as it’s the other aspect of the tale (read the book, ha ha) that carries the reader. I can’t recall another novel that demonstrates such a clear dichotomy from the perspective of presenting the character/plot argument.
As for flaws, the book is loaded with them. Much can be attributed to translation, but some of the writing in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, as well as plot elements, is glaringly weak. To the latter, Lisbeth’s motorcycle ride at night reads as highly contrived, and Mikael’s venture into the woods goes beyond the silly. Still, who’s who is powerful enough to spur on the reader, as I was willing to ignore these huge leaps of faith to wait for final resolution. The pacing, whether orchestrated by character or plot, kept me flipping the pages, and what I wrote in this analysis (notice I’m not referring to this as a review) presents my rationale for why this otherwise quite flawed story was such a humongous success. My suggestion is to ignore the slip-ups and concentrate instead on the salient features of the narrative that gripped the public. How were the two lead characters developed, and what techniques were used to advance the plot until it ultimately controls the story? I’m of the opinion that the elements in each are worth outlining, dissecting, and practicing. I don’t believe I’m being ridiculous to suggest that working on what I’ve discussed can take writing a long way for a great many writers, including yours truly.