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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
by Stieg Larsson

Book One of the Millennium Trilogy

Mikael Blomkvist's career takes a serious nosedive when the financial investigative reporter is sued for libel by a subject of one of his articles. Although Blomkvist knows that man is a liar and a crook, he cannot prove it. He resigns from his magazine, Millennium, and prepares himself for a life in disgrace. But a retired Swedish industrialist contacts Blomkvist with an unwanted proposal: he wishes for Blomkvist to investigate a murder that has haunted the old man and his family for nearly forty years. In return, he is prepared to pay Blomkvist handsomely and, at the end of one year, present the journalist with the information he needs to take down the man who ended Blomkvist's career. With the help of a young woman named Lisbeth Salander, a troubled but brilliant researcher with her own set of problems, Blomkvist tries to solve the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. It soon becomes clear that a serial killer is on the loose, and if he or she is not uncovered, the killer will strike again.

This is one of those books that seemed to be all over the place a year or two back. Two movies were made – one Swedish, one American – and the entire trilogy seems to have sold like gangbusters. I was intrigued enough to pick up a copy, even though mystery-thrillers aren't usually a favorite genre. After reading the book, though, I have to confess that I don't see what all the hubbub is about.

First of all, Larsson is an exposition king. He never misses an opportunity to describe or explain something – especially technology. At times, I wondered if the man was getting royalties from a computer manufacturer, because he talked the hell out of characters' iBooks and their software programs. I get that one of the characters is a hacker, but it is still never riveting to hear about processing speeds and RAM capacities and whatnot. Also, every time I read the book I got a serious craving for sandwiches and coffee, because I swear that every couple pages somebody is devouring one or the other. In fact, I'm pretty sure that sandwiches are the Swedish national meal.

There's a lot of sex in the novel, which I realize is pretty par for the course in thrillers these days, but it's pretty graphic. There are some very explicit rape scenes, and while I understand that part of Larsson's intent was to draw attention to the plight of sexually abused women, it still felt very exploitative and fueled by fantasies of bondage and domination. As if sexual power trips and assault weren't enough, Larsson throws evil business corporations, anti-Semitism and the Nazis, and corrupt government officials into the mix. The plot's a complex, roiling stew of objectionable things. Some of it works, but a lot of it feels like overkill.

The mystery itself is fairly predictable. The various suspects, all kooky members of the Vanger family, are so strange and unpleasant that when one guy shows up who seems halfway decent and normal, you instantly know that he will, in the end, turn out to be the madman who locks innocent girls in his basement.

I haven't really talked about Mikael Blomkvist, mainly because I don't think he ever showed much personality or character. Certainly, Stieg Larsson tells readers a lot about Blomkvist – he's an amazing journalist, and women are constantly falling for him – but in his actions and deeds he never struck me as particularly attractive or interesting. Near as I could tell, he's just a bloke with a penchant for overexplaining things, rather a cipher for the author himself. Hmm. I wish I hadn't had that thought. That makes the various sex scenes – Blomkvist with his business partner, a predatory older woman, and eventually Salander, too – rather disturbing...

I have heard that the literal translation of the Swedish title of this book, Män som hatar kvinnor, is “Men Who Hate Women”. I can't help but wonder just how we got from that title to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - did a marketing team decide that the English-reading audience just wouldn't go for the original title or did the dragon tattoo just sound a whole lot cooler? It just doesn't seem a particularly appropriate title for the book, given the dragon tattoo is just one of many and the girl who has it isn't even the main character.

I just don't get it. I don't have any idea why this book skyrocketed in popularity, especially since the English translation seems especially stiff and stilted. That, in my opinion, is the real mystery here.

2 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Avatar, the Last Airbender: The Promise, Part One by Gene Yang and others
2011: Taking a break...
2010: News: Picture Books No Longer A Staple For Children
2009: Sorrow Wood by Raymond Atkins
2008: Discussion Question: What's New With School?


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 27th, 2013 11:49 am (UTC)
I think part of the hub-bub was due to Larsson dying unexpectedly while still writing this series, and the drama that happened afterwards between his partner and his family. Some of it may also be due to the main characters not really being law-enforcement - the story itself isn't really that unique for "Scandanavian noir," but most of those involve law enforcement/private investigator-types, not a writer and a "punk-chic" hacker. Even if you don't consider Lisbeth the main character in this book, she's a pretty "flashy" one.

But yeah, Larsson was a bit too fond of exposition and info dump - the first book suffered from that aspect, a lot. It's been a while since I read the trilogy, so I don't really remember lots of infodumps in the following books. The next 2 books do focus on Lisbeth way more, though.
Oct. 27th, 2013 04:40 pm (UTC)
This is very so though many of the Nordic writers seem to thrive on exposition and they certainly are slower paced than US crime novels.

I think that taking the lead from the second book (The Girl Who Played with Fire) and giving all 3 'The Girl' titles was a brilliant move.

Just reading another Swedish crime novel and they do seem to be eating a lot of sandwiches.
Oct. 27th, 2013 05:01 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I definitely haven't read as many Nordic/Scandinavian crime novels as you have (other than Larsson's, I think I've only read one by Jo Nesbø), but they do seem to be much longer than your typical US crime-thrillers. I guess I don't always mind the extra exposition, especially if touches on a subject that I find interesting, or if it's describing a society I'm not familiar with. But in other instances, it can be like Melville's "Whaling 101" in Moby Dick. I don't think Larsson's exposition was *that* bad (I liked the book better than fashion_piranha did), but I can see how it can annoy some people.

I think you have to be in the right mood for these type of novels - if you're looking for a fast-paced thriller that is mainly plot, you might not be pleased.
Oct. 27th, 2013 05:21 pm (UTC)
I'm not much of a thriller fan in the first place, so the book had a disadvantage from the get-go, but I tried to put that aside when I was reading it, largely because so many people told me it was great. But the exposition thing tends to bother me, whether it happens in historical fiction (I hate history lessons masquerading as conversations!) or mysteries or whatever.

Knowing that Lisbeth figures more prominently in the later books is good news - I found her far more interesting that Blomkvist.

And something I didn't consider 'til now - I listened to an audio version this book, narrated by Simon Vance. He has a very proper but dry narration style, and while it works pretty well in some scenes it made some of the long descriptions of Swedish banking and corporate history nearly unbearable.
Oct. 27th, 2013 05:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I can't imagine listening to this as an audiobook. I'm not an audiobook fan in general, b/c I find my mind wandering when I try listening to them - I do better with visual media. At least in print you can skim if you get to sections you find you don't care about (this is how I got through George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons, lol).

If you liked Lisbeth, it might be worth continuing on with the series since it's basically her story from now on. There is a lot of violence, though, at times - although I don't remember any more instances of sexual violence (that doesn't mean there *isn't* any, though). But as I said, it's been a few years since I read these.
Oct. 27th, 2013 05:24 pm (UTC)
It's been a while since I read it, (about 3 years) but when I did, I enjoyed it a lot. I wasn't reading it from the perspective of a critic though, and more just reading it for enjoyment. It was a fluff novel, albeit a rather and disturbing fluff novel. I liked the second and third novels better, as they are connected more in story.
Oct. 29th, 2013 01:15 am (UTC)
The books that become huge best sellers are often read by people who don't read a lot. (my own theory!) Since these people don't read a lot, what ever genre that becomes the 'it' book seems fabulous. I read lots of mysteries and thrillers, and The Girl Who... was a good series, but nothing terrific, especially when there are mysteries by Indridason, Deon Meyer, Nesbo, Hayder out there that are really good, better than Larsson. But once a book starts to become popular, away it goes. And his dying provided the impetus to get it selling.

I thought the second book - The Girl Who Played With Fire, was by far the best of the the trilogy, which is odd in a trilogy for the 2nd book to be the strongest, usually they are the weakest, just there to connect first to last.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


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