For a book described frequently as a riveting page turner, the first hundred pages or so are exceptionally boring. Thankfully, Stieg Larsson has two prominent writing flaws on his side that come together rather well. One - he describes action with the most minute and insignificant details and introduces characters and scenarios in the most clinical and drab way possible. Two - his prose style is completely without personality or flair. So what ends up happening is that as you read this you are bogged down with senseless facts and minutiae, but his writing is so without complexity that before you know it you've plowed through two hundred pages, so what's four hundred more?
Larsson's style also works well with the content he delivers, which is heavily disturbing and violent. Issues of rape, murder, and incest he handles with all the tact and precision of a surgical textbook. This has a strange effect on his two main characters, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. They are great characters. Blomkvist seems to be taken straight out of some progressive activist's wet dream - an idealistic journalist who exposes white collar crime, and is willing to serve time for it, who has a carefree love life and apparently irresistible looks and charm. Salander I struggled with when she was introduced. I didn't think Larsson had ever actually met a goth before, and if he had they didn't get to know too much about each other. She is introduced as a novelty, almost as decoration than anything else, objectified by almost everyone who comes in contact with her as a victim, delinquent, or freak. Once we get into her head though, her frailty and determination coalesce nicely into a very real feeling person. Nonetheless, with both her and Blomkvist, the reader is kept at arm's length through most of the story. They are two people who seem to exist moment to moment only, taking blows and injustices in stride and able to throw themselves into the next interesting thing without any care for what they're leaving behind. For Blomkvist this seems to be the life of the passionate person he's always been; for Salander its a coping mechanism, one that towards the end of the story begins to break down.
And the story? It's pretty good, too. Larsson provides a real brain scratcher of a mystery, and then totally delivers with a conclusion that is shocking enough to be satisfying, but is not so far out of left field that it feels unnatural. That's what I think makes this book so enjoyable, is that clearly Larsson began the story with a very specific intention - to write about women who suffer at the hands of terrible men just because they are women. Its somewhat anti-intellectual in the sense that it shrugs off the popular concept of the intriguing serial killer with the tragic past and the abnormal psychology. Larsson writes these rapists and murderers the story encounters as totally unsympathetic, but not as monsters. They are distorted pieces of humanity, like clumsy trolls they wander through the world leaving a trail of pain and suffering behind them, all for the sake of satisfying their needs. He makes it clear these are people - people that could be your neighbors, your teachers, your family. Or you. Every thread of the story follows this theme, and as such things tie up quite nicely by the end.
So yes, it was an entertaining book, and I will probably end up reading the other two, though I am weary of the massive page count, just because of Larsson's love of superfluous detail. But clearly this story is going some place really interesting, and I want to know where that is.