sunnuntai 14. lokakuuta 2012

Autumn book club: Män som hatar kvinnor (The girl with the dragon tattoo).

Hi guise!

It's October, my birthday month! xD Time sure flies by. Another year and none the wiser.
My BFF is taking me to watch ballet =D I haven't been to ballet for 10 years O_o I was a wee ballerina, once upon a time. I got to dance on the pointe shoes for about 3 years and wear a tutu to performances ^_^ I live next to a prestigious school, and my dance company held all their performances there (their big hall has a balcony view too!). Every winter and spring we'd perform at the school. Sometimes I'd perform twice a day because I was doing ballet and modern dance. I get very nostalgic and little sad everytime I see ballerinas on the school yard. They remind me of how much I enjoyed dancing in front of an audience. Too bad I wasn't much of a ballerina. Doing the routine practices in class was a bit difficult for me because I wasn't big on concentrating. Unless you are really into ballet, doing the same routines day after day gets boring really quickly (have you seen Black Swan? Ballet practices are like the ones Aronofsky showed in the beginning of Black Swan. That's literally almost all we did in ballet class). By the time I got my pointe shoes, I wasn't so bored anymore because the routines had gotten much tougher. Two years later my long time teacher left my group and we got a new teacher. I had a big 'falling out' with her because she wanted to do a sort of a Hungarian folk dance for our next big performance, and I felt so wronged by her decision that I quit ballet then and there. I had been practicing on pointe shoes for over 3 years, so I thought I (and my fellow ballerinas) deserved to dance real ballet.

I so want to start practicing ballet again *sigh* only if I had the time and money to do that. However, I'd make sure to join a ballet/dance company that performs to a real audience at least once a year =) We are going to go see Manon on my birthday btw. 

On with October's book review. First of all, 'The girl with the dragon tattoo' ought to be one of the stupidest translations ever! The correct translation is 'Men who hate women'. See, isn't that much more powerful than lame 'girl with the dragon tattoo'. So what? Quite frankly, I'm not nearly as interested in the girl who has a dragon tattoo, I'm far more interested in the men who hate women. Why do they hate women? Do they literally hate women, or is it a chauvinist thing, something they talk about at their chauvinist mens club? If they literally hate women, do they mean all women, or are they particular? And most importantly, what happens to these women they meet?

I had seen The girl who played with fire trailer in Finland, but I wasn't the least bit interested because it was in Swedish. To be honest I can't remember why I decided to read Män som hatar kvinnor by Stieg Larsson in the first place. Probably because the international reviews were raving about the story, and the movie was about the hit cinemas in Australia. I was living in Adelaide at the time so I decided to read the book and then check out the movie. Let me stress out that the movie WAS NOT the stupid hollywood version with Daniel Craig --_-- It was the original Swedish movie with Noomi Rapace. Anyway, 'Män som hatar kvinnor' (I still wonder what ever possessed the translator to come up with such a lame title for the English translation!?) is the first book in the Millenium trilogy. Followed by 'Flickan som lekte med elden' and my personal favourite title, 'Luftslottet som sprängdes' (the castle of air that collapsed. Very figurative title ^_^). The English title for the latter, isn't half bad either, it's rather clever actually. However in this review I'm going to talk about the men who hate women. 
I read this book two years ago, so I can't remember all the details. So I'll just tell you all the details I can remember okay. 

The story opens with Henrik Vanger, he is retired but wealthy CEO of the Vanger Corporation. Thirty-six years ago, his great-niece Harriet went missing. For his birthday Harriet always gave him a pressed flower in frames. When she dissapeared Henrik never saw another flower for decades, until one day he got one delivered to him. After that flower, he started receiving flowers every year on his birthday. The newest flower would be number forty-four. Henrik was always convinced that Harriet was murdered by a family member, even though no one was really a suspect. Which leads Henrik to believe that the murderer is now daunting him by giving him flowers Harriet used to give him. So Henrik proceeds to hire Mikael Blomkvist, a publisher of a political magazine called Millenium. Henrik vaguely knows Mikael because Harriet used to be his babysitter and Henrik has been following Mikael's career for years.

I think this prologue is pretty interesting and well written, but too bad it reveals how the story is going to end --_-- I knew that Harriet was alive because of the new flowers. Quite frankly it seems kinda stupid that the murderer would wait for over 30 years until he'd start daunting Henrik. So it doesn't takea a genious to realize that she is sending hidden 'I am OK'  messages to Henrik. It would have been much more cruel if the murderer had actually killed Harriet and now he's really daunting Henrik with her murder. However then again, I find the ending a little more satisfying because Harriet survived. Considering the crimes in this book, it's very nice of Larsson to let Harriet live. Otherwise this would have been a really depressing story.

Our male lead Michael has just lost a defamation case against billionaire industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. He is sentenced to three months in prison, and ordered to pay hefty damages and costs. Michael decides to leave 'Millenium' so the magazine and the staff won't have to suffer too much from his bad publicity. Soon after he 'leaves' "Millenium", he is invited to meet Henrik Vanger. Henrik tells Michael about Harriet and asks him to investigate her dissapearance. In return Henrik promises Michael financial reward (big big money) and solid evidence against Wennerström. In order to disguise their investigations for Harriet they say that Michael is writting the Vanger family history. Which would also explain why Michael moves in to a small cabin on Hedeby island (owned by Henrik). Harriet dissapeared precisely on Hedeby island.

Which brings us to our heroine, and may I say, one of the most interesting female heroines in the 21st century literature, Lisbeth Salander. Before Henrik hired Michael, he had his lawyer hire the Milton Security to research Michael's background. Lisbeth carried out the inspection. She works as a surveillance agent with Milton Security, but on the side, she is one heck of a hacker. I find Lisbeth interesting. Sure she is disturbed, anti-social and egoistic, and she is also damn unpredictable (which makes her much more fun!). You never know what she'll do next. Hence she is the exact opposite of all the female heroines we have seen so far. I have to mention her clothing style, it's gothic, yet it borrows a little from punk-rock. And to make sure that Lisbeth was not traditional, Larsson made her hate men, like really hate men. A heroine of the 21st century who is not at all interested in men. This was like a breeze of fresh air for me. Finally, we have an independent heroine whose life does not revolve around her complicated relantionships with men --_-- Personally I think Lisbeth is a pretty awesome idea (note: idea) of the modern woman. Yes she is a disturbed young woman who hates men, her choise of career is slightly vague (that Milton stuff is legal, it's just the hacking that is still criminal I take) but she is also very compasionate and very smart. I'm not saying we should all be Lisbeths, I'm saying that her characteristics are something we should take a note of. We learn more about Lisbeth's gentle side as the story proceeds, but in the mean time, she is really tough. (Although the second "Millenium" book is like an odé to Lisbeth's genius. Larsson keeps writing about how brilliant and smart and strong Lisbeth is that it get's really old really quickly. Larsson needlessly added more water to the mill). 

Whilst Michael investigates on Hedeby island, Lisbeth meets with her new legal guardian Nils Bjurman. Her most trusted guardian Holger Palmgren had suffered a massive stroke (he had the stroke in his apartment, and Lisbeth got there just in time to save him) and Nils was named her new guardian. During their second meeting, Lisbeth asks to claim money from her bank account to buy a new Mac laptop. Taking advantage of his position Nils forces Lisbeth to give him a blowjob in exchange for a small amount of money. Nils actually can sentence Lisbeth back in to institution. Later Lisbeth goes to Nils' house to claim more money, and he anally rapes her (not an easy read, nor easy to watch). However, on the third time, Lisbeth gets her revenge. YAY! She shows him her rape on video, which she recorded with a hidden camera in her backpack. Threatening to ruin him, Nils agrees to write praysing reports of her to his superiors and she'll gain full control of her finances. To get her message across she brands him with a tattoo that says 'I AM A SADISTIC PIG, A PERVERT, AND A RAPIST'. Finally she says that she will keep a track on his movements, and if he ever even considers having that tattoo removed, she'll kill him.

I personally don't think it's a good idea to go to a strange man's house just so one can get really revealing evidence of the man's criminal acts. Nor do I think it's a good idea to go back there with a taser and torture them after they wake up. This sounds really like heroic and romantic and escpecially the revenge part is awesome, but in reality Lisbeth puts herself in to a dangerous position just to get evidence. Sure that evidence can put a man behind bars, not to mention this evidence will set her free in book 3, but I wouldn't recommend this kind of behavior to anyone. However if you are willing to read between the lines, Lisbeth comes across as a real go-getter. She knows what she want and she knows how to get it. Not to mention it was rather...ahem brave to go personally into the battlefield to get the evidence she knows will grand her her freedom (perhaps she knew that that evidence would be useful in the future too). She is clearly a planner and can see the big picture even if the picture doesn't excist in full yet. I mean Lisbeth has traits which every woman (and every man too, why not) should posses: determination, spontaneity and wits. 

 Mean while Michael has been hard at work trying to discover what happened to Harriet. On the day of her dissapearance, the whole Vanger family was gathered on Hedeby island to celebrate. Only one bridge connects Hedeby to the mainland and on that day, there was an accident on the bridge. It took hours before anyone could access or leave the island. Yet during the accident Harriet dissapeared. Last time anyone saw her was when she was looking out the window of her cousin's room in the mainhouse (I think that's how it went). 
Michael investigations are quite fascinating to read. He literally starts from scratch so it leaves the reader wondering how the hell he is going to crack this case. By interviewing the family members who live on the island, Michael discoveres more about what happened on that day. Harriet's brother Martin lives on the island too and even though he isn't much of a help (as I recall) the two men get a long really well. In Martin's and Harriet's father's cabin, Michael finds Harriet's journal and a bible. Their father Gottfried was Henrik's brother who accidentally drowned whilst drunk. Michael reads Harriet's bible and finds a lot of bible and religious writings, and three names and two initials, follewed by serial numbers. It takes Michael quite a while to discover the meaning of those names and numbers. His daughter clears up the meaning when she tells him that he should continue his bible studies. Hence Michael finds out that the 5 women are linked to the bible. The serial numbers are passages that encourage the reader to kill the women who they know have slept with an animal for example. And these names date back to the 1940's. So Harriet had discovered that someone had been systematically killing women since the 1940's? But it takes a long time before we get to this bit.

After this Larsson introduces a little humour to the story when Michael goes to Lisbeth's to ask for her help. Henrik's lawyer reveals that they had him invested. Michael asks to see the report, and once he discovers that Lisbeth not only hacked to his computer but is clearly very smart, he asks to hire her to assist him in the case. It was soooo funny to read how Lisbeth discovers Michael at her door one morning xD What Lisbeth does next is actually really humane, she panics and steps back. I mean she just completed a research on this guy and of course she never expected to meet him, but now he his in her apartment. What really moved me was how considerate Michael was to bring breakfast, he even brought a vegetarian alternative!! I mean how often do people regard us vegetarians? Actually I should ask how often do strangers regard vegetarians? Michael knows nothing about Lisbeth, yet he is smart enough to acknowledge that her food preferences may not be meat biased. Oh, I find that so touching! ^_^ (FYI Lisbeth goes for the beef bagel). Michael 'hires' Lisbeth and she goes to Hedeby island with him.

This book has over 300 pages, so naturally the events in the beginning overlap. Plus as Michael and Lisbeth get together, it takes a long time for them to learn anything really important.  Mostly they just go after clues and try to figure out what the hell happened to Harriet. They even have time to sleep together, and at one point Lisbeth finds herself in love with Michael. Personally I don't see why. He isn't even that cleaver, as a matter of fact, as characters go, Michael is flat and uninteresting. Don't know why all the men in Larsson's books are either pedophile-and-rapist-murderers or flat nobodies. Why is that?
Even though it might (I say might) get a little boring, I think Larsson describes their detective work realistically. I mean, it's not like they can actually find a new important clue every day. Or suddenly realize what happened to Harriet without doing any research. And it's not like Michael can go "I got it! It must be this-and-this" every time they find a new piece of evidence. After all they have so many puzzle pieces to deal with that I'm not sure if this crime was actually solvable if this was reality. I know that it's just a story, but based on Larsson's writing style I'd say this book intents to be realistic. After all Lisbeth is based on a real person (if you choose to believe it that is) and all the events seem realistic enough. It's jus how Lisbeth and Michael unravel the case confuses me a little. It just seems so unlikely that they would be able to solve the case because what they case really is, is a little baffling.

On Hedeby island Lisbeth and Michael began trace the women mentioned in Harriet's diary. They go to the locations where they were killed and-or found. They are able interview one of the victim's spouses and Michael and Lisbeth discover that they are on the trail of a serial killer who has been killing women for decades using the bible as reference.

Personally I find it a little unconvincing that Michael would actually have someone in his circle of friends and/or family who knows the bible really well. And even if there was someone, what are the odds that it's someone really close to him and not some distant relative he never sees? This plot point is just so over used and Larsson should have known that too. I actually hate the idea that it's always someone really close to the detective who gives them the most important clue. The plot has to move on somehow so I suppose this is the writer's best bet, but in reality, I bet there would be no one to provide Michael that bible clue. I have read many books and watched so many movies and tv-series that I guessed quickly that the numbers were most likely from the bible. Seriously. Trust me, if you have a set of numbers that you don't know what they are, they're most likely from the bible. This is how it always goes right? But really, if you had a clue that contained medical science stuff for example, and you didn't know it, would there be someone you know who would see your research by accident and say "Oh hey that's this-and-that's formula. Why are you studying it?". I bet your answer is 'no'. Mine is.

 And this next bit annoys me too. They look for old photographs that could reveal more about the day's festival and the accident on the bridge. When looking the photographs, Michael becomes sure that the murderer was at the parade because Harriet looks startled in one of the photos. The murderer is supposedly in front of Harriet, but on the other side of the street. In the photo there is also a couple behind Harriet, taking pictures of the spot the murderer supposedly is. Hence Michael tracks down the couple and asks to see their pictures of the festival. Unfortunately the photo is blurry and he can't make out the person Harriet is looking at. It seems a little far fetched that Michael would actually track down an old couple from 30 years ago with a single photograph. Of course it brings drama and makes the reader wonder if the case is ever going to get solved. However I don't think it's that easy to track down people one saw in a photograph from 40 years ago. As I recall Michael saw the couple's car's licence plate and like so was able to track them down.That doesn't seem too realistic to me. I suppose it can be done, very unlikely though.

The story is about to reach it's climax now. I don't remember how he did it, but Michael discovers that it was Martin who killed Harriet. Michael goes to surprise Martin at his house, but Martin has been expecting him and he attacks Michael and takes him prisoner. Mean while Lisbeth has discovered that it was Martin's and Harriet's father Gottfried who was behind all the murders starting from the 1940's and after he died Martin continued the killings. Lets just say it made me physically ill to read Martin brag about all the women he had killed and how amazing it made him feel. I don't know about Sweden, but Finland is a pretty safe place to live. People sometimes refere Finland as ''The Moominvalley'' because nothing bad ever happenes here. Well..until recently, about 5-6 years ago, bad things started to happen here too. So it's always a grim reminder that people like Martin and his father excist in this world. I did not enjoy reading about Martin and his 'conquests'. Michael asks Martin why he killed Harriet. Martin gets mad and asks Michael what he and Salander have found out, because he did not kill Harriet. He wanted to, but she vanished before he could get to the island. Apparently Gottfried and Martin tried to pursue Harrit to accept their 'life style', but she refused. Once their father died, Martin tried to keep Harriet from telling anyone about their murderous and incestuous past, but he got suspicious and decided to kill her. But luckily Harriet got away in time. In the basement Martin is just about to kill Michael when Lisbeth bursts in, kicks Martin's ass and frees Michael. But Martin escapes. Lisbeth drives after him on her motorcycle. Martin drives straight in to a truck and dies in the crash. In the movie, Martin's death is much more satisfying. He is stuck in his car, and Lisbeth watches him burn alive. For me, that was much better than just read about the bastard die in a car crash --__-- 

But what I don't understand is, why did Lisbeth conceal most of Martin's killings. She order's Michael not to alert the police and in secrecy destroyes some of the documented evidence of Martin's murders, in cluding his laptop. WHY!? This I don't understand, why she did that?! She later tells Henrik's lawyer everything about Martin and Gottfried and what happened to Michael and about the basement in Martin's house. She tells him, he can decide what to tell the authorities if he chooses to contact them, as long as he leaves Lisbeth and Michael out of it.

 So Lisbeth and Michael found out that Gottfried killed women for over 2 decades and molested his son. He even taught his son to rape and murder women and tried to do the same to his daughter. If you are like me and tend to empathize with what you read or see, you may be as upset about this as I am. And I don't mean I'm upset about Martin's past, I'm upset about what he did. Lisbet has a great quote in the book: 
"Martin had exactly the same opportunity as anyone else to strike back. He killed and he raped because he liked doing it." and "”Bullshit,” Salander said again. “Gottfried isn’t the only kid who was ever mistreated. That doesn’t give him the right to murder women. He made that choice himself. And the same is true of Martin." I agree with Lisbeth 100%. If everyone who had a terrible childhood started systematically killing people, I bet there would't be many of us left! I believe that we all make our own decisions. It has little to do with your parents or your upbringing. In the end, once you start thinking for yourself, it's all up to you to decide whether you want to do some things or not. Harriet was brought to believe that raping and killing women was the right thing to do. But she chose to disregard that way of living and choose a different belief for herself. I personally don't feel sorry for people who blame their parent's or upbringing or life style for their sad way of excistance. This may seem cold and heartless, but I don't see why I should feel sorry for someone who for.ex cries about being fat because their parents are fat. Even if your parent's are obese, that doesn't mean you have to be obese too. Martin chose to accept his father's belief (like Lisbeth said, he enjoyed) but Harriet didn't. It's not that complicated. And If Lisbeth can survive a harsh childhood and even harsher adolescence
so can anyone. Lisbeth turned out really well. Besides, when she was a child she revenged the hardships she and her mother went through under her father, by setting him on fire. That's quite a story, for book 2.

Now we know that Harriet is alive. And through her cousin in England, they discover that she smuggled Harriet out of Hedeby after the accident on the bridge. It turned out that it wasn't Harriet looking out the window, it was the cousin. They looked almost identical, so the cousin saved her and gave her her passport. So Harriet fled the country and is now living in Australia. Michael flies there and meets Harriet, and we finally learn why Harriet chose to dissapear. Her father had repeatedly raped and abused her for a long time. Until one day she was strong enough to try to escape him and she accidentally kills him with an oar. He was climbing on her escape boat when she hit him in self-defense. Unfortunately Martin was there to see everything so he began to blackmail and sexually abuse her. But then he was sent away to boarding school and Harriet was left in peace for the longgest time. She told her cousin all about the rapes and abuse and started investigating the other women her father and Martin had murdered. On the festival day Martin coma back and Harriet asked her cousin to smuggle her out of Sweden. And thus she was finally free of her fucked up family.
Michael tells Harriet that Martin is dead and asks her to return to Sweden and to her great-uncle. It's a happy ending and Henrik plans to make her the CEO of the Vanger Corporation. 

As promised Henrik gives Michael evidence against Wennerström. I can't remember why, but the evidence turns out to be useless. Luckily Lisbeth, being in love with Michael, has already hacked Wennerström's computer and has discovered all his other crimes that Michael didn't know about. Using Lisbeth's evidence, Michael writes an exposé book which ruins Wennerström and makes Millenium famous. And Lisbeth being Lisbeth steals more than 2.4 billion Euros from Wennerström's secret bank account, making her Ford magazines 11th most richest fictional character.

All's well ends well. Except for all those women those bastards killed. However Larsson just had to write a second book right? So at the end of this book, Lisbeth goes to Michael's house to give him a present, when she sees him with his fuckbuddy and business partner Erika. Heartbroken Lisbeth swears off Michael and leaves the country.

I realize that I have done what Larsson did in the second book, praise Lisbeth to heaven and beyond. But she really is an amazing character. It's just too bad Larsson had to turn her into some sort of a superhero in the second book. A tiny girl smacks around big men and she is terribly smart and wise and awesome and this and that. It's a shame the second book turned out to be such a let down. Only the ending was awesome! The book looses a lot of credibility mainly because Larsson had such a boner for Lisbeth that he clearly didn't see that he was making her and the story laughable. However that's the second book's problem

This book however was really good. If you are willing to over look the few major flaws it is an interesting story. I especially liked those parts where Michael and Lisbeth went for the clues and tried to put the pieces together. The characters in the story think and function quite realistically, a big thanks to Larsson for that (Larsson died few years ago). And the outcome really took me by surprise. It was really insightful to make the crime (Harriet's murder) look like it happened just that one time, when in reality there was a chain of crimes. Larsson's writing style was unique and he clearly knew how to write realistically and how to make Lisbeth (only Lisbeth) so genuine. Well the other characters are genuine too, but too bad Larsson didn't spend as much time perfecting their characteristics because they could have been as awesome as Lisbeth (well almost as awesome). Now they are outstaged by her. I'm not a professional critic, but to me it shows real talent when a writer can make all, or at least most, of their characters as interesting as the main characters. It's like an urban legend that a writer only needs a Sherlock Holmes and a Moriarty, but I believe the 21st century literature needs more than 2 interesting characters per story. Millenium trilogy is a Lisbeth show so thank goodness Lisbeth is strong enough to hold the trilogy on her own. 

 Now that you have read the book, go watch the movie (the Swedish one, duh!).
Hope you found this review interesting. Stay tuned for October's artist review.



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