gloomy Swedes? or pure escape?

The New York Times this Sunday reviews Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, just released in the US – and reviewer Alex Berenson finds that it may just cement Sweden’s reputation for dourness and gloom.

The novel offers a thoroughly ugly view of human nature, especially when it comes to the way Swedish men treat Swedish women. In Larsson’s world, sadism, murder and suicide are commonplace — as is lots of casual sex. (Sweden isn’t all bad.) . . . .

The book’s original Swedish title was “Men Who Hate Women,” a label that just about captures the subtlety of the novel’s sexual politics. Except for Blomkvist, nearly every man in the book under age 70 is a violent misogynist.

Nor will “Girl” win any awards for characterization. While Blomkvist comes to life as he’s investigating the murder, his relationships with his daughter and with Erika Berger, a co-worker who is his occasional lover, seem half-formed and weak. Even after 460 pages, it’s not clear whether Blomkvist cares, whether he’s troubled by his lack of intimacy or simply resigned to it. Is he stoic or merely Swedish? Either way, he seems more a stock character than a real person.

On the whole, Berenson is not impressed. Though the middle section of the book is “a treat,” he thinks the conclusion drags.

Not so, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune book critic, Susan Larson, who enjoyed visiting cool climes on her summer vacation.

Maybe it’s these hot summer days, but I find myself drawn to Scandinavian writers. I loved Per Petterson’s “Out Stealing Horses,” a tale of 67-year-old Trond Sander, who has retreated to the countryside, but sees his whole life come rushing back at a moment. “This is what I want,” he thinks, “and I know I can do it, that I have it in me, the ability to be alone, and there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer mystery series — “The Indian Bride” is the most recent — appeals to me for the obvious reasons: like me, Konrad Sejer has lost a spouse and is devoted to his dog, and it’s easy to slip into his wintry frame of mind.

Hands down, the best book I read this summer — which will be published in September– is “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a novel by the late Swedish writer, Stieg Larsson, the first in a trilogy, a kind of locked-room mystery set on a Swedish island. The title character, Lisbeth Salander, is a computer hacker, one of those isolated but determined women like Smilla of “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” capable of getting through the hardest moments. Pure escape. I’d love to be so tough.

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