A Young Girl Disappears (19 cents)

Is it only a coincidence that the two novels I have most recently read have had, as their basis, the disappearance of a young girl? I know I didn’t do it on purpose, and there aren’t that many novels based on this premise……

Paolo Giordano’s novel, “The Solitude of Prime Numbers”, was perhaps an odd choice. I had read a review of the novel some time ago, but thought no more about it until my wife and I were in the English language section of a bookstore in Rome, and she was looking for a book to read on the trip. There were a number of Italian novels, in English translation, and this one got my attention.

The story ranges over about a 20 year period, the childhood, adolescence and young adulthood of a boy, Mattia, and a girl, Alice, each struggling under a handicap. Alice, daughter of an overbearing father, was injured in an unnecessary ski accident and crippled for life. Mattia, very bright but to some degree autistic, was a twin, his sister being seriously mentally challenged. All three were, as you would expect, loners, rejected by others and, hence, rejecting them.

The unthinkable happens: the young twins are (for the first time) invited to a classmate’s birthday party, but on the way, Mattia (always his sister’s protector) decides he needed to be at the party without the burden of his sister, who he leaves on a park bench, instructing her to wait for him there until he returns. When he does return, she is gone. He never sees her again.

There is an attraction between the adolescent Mattia and the adolescent Alice, when they meet and, although their ability to communicate and relate to each other (and to anyone else) is severely limited, they become friends, each’s only friend, to be sure.

But time goes by. Mattia attends, and graduates from the university, a mathematical genius, and gets a fellowship from a Scandinavian school. Agonizing as to whether he should go or not, knowing it means leaving Alice behind, and after attempting to discuss the matter with her (something neither is really capable of doing), he goes. He is alone in the north, avoiding his colleagues for the most part, while she finally meets someone who is attracted to her, a respected young doctor whom she marries.

Their contact is sporadic, and eventually she learns about his sister, something she did not know previously. And she uncovers a secret that she cannot tell him. Meanwhile, her marriage not surprisingly falters. Mattia and Alice come together for a short period. And again, they go apart.

They are victims of their own limitations. They cannot overcome.

How different is the story of Harriet Vanger, presumably murdered in the 1960s, the murdered never found. Her uncle, industrial leader Henrik Vanger, has not forgotten his favorite niece, and he hires investigative journalist Mikael Blomqvist, to find out what happened to her, under cover of writing the Vanger family history.

I don’t think a lot of people are reading “The Solitude of Prime Numbers” in the United States, although it is a prize winning novel, but everyone seems to be reading “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, so I see no need to recap the plot.

But how is the book? It is very readable. It is hard to put down. The characters, especially Blomqvist and his assistant (sometimes seeming boss), Lisabeth Salanter, the tattooed girl, are fascinating. And I think that it starts with a great story line.

But it is, in my opinion, a little too cute for its own good. It brings together too many separate plot lines, some of them not showing up until the book nears its end. It also, in its description of much sadistic violence and torture, goes too far, and unnecessarily so. And, the book doesn’t really end, but sets you up for the two remaining books of the trilogy which, yes, I think I will read.

And then there’s the Swedish movie which I saw before the book, and had a similar reaction to. It had me going and then, as time went on, it got more and more complicated, more and more outrageous and more and more sensational and incredible.

But do I remember the movie correctly? I remember that the focus of the movie was its Nazi references – that the various murdered women all had a Jewish connection. But I don’t remember seeing that in the book. Am I right in noticing this disconnect? Do I have to see the film again, or read the book again, to put this all in context?

If, as I suspect, the film makers extrapolated the story to build on the Nazi connection and thus anti-Semitism, why did they do it? What am I to make of it?

There has been much written about this film and the books. There is an extensive website devoted to the late Stieg Larson, who wrote the books before he died. I have not studied the website. Larson was a Communist and an investigative reporter – he had received many threats from right wing Swedes. His death at age 50 was from a heart attack, but conspiracy theories abound.

What is going on in Sweden these days, anyway?

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