Stieg Larsson — The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I was a little hesitant to pick this book up, at first, partially because so far my experience with Swedish crime writing has been solely Henning Mankell based. And the Wallander books certainly have their own feel, a sort of calm lull before and after storms, a meandering thought process and investigation, that I had grown accustomed to. By all accounts, Lisbeth Salander and Larsson offered no such things. Eventually, however, curiosity killed the cat and the buzz surrounding this trilogy grew to such a ridiculous level that I picked The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo up at the library.

Larsson is certainly no Mankell, that’s for sure. The book immediately grabbed my interest with a fantastic prologue, setting up a creepy mystery with a possible-crime–someone sending obscure, pressed flowers not native to Sweden to a police chief every year for a very long time–but then it instantly lost it. The long introduction to one of the main characters (Salander is arguably more of a show stealer) was necessary, but felt plodding. I found my eyes glazing over as I read details of Blomkvist’s fall from grace, and I knew that I should care more than I did about what happened to him. Things began to pick up with the introduction of Salander, though, who I could tell from the beginning was going to be a problematic character for me, both because she was interesting, but also came off as a bit of a creepy male fantasy “ideal alterna-woman,” capable of kicking ass, but still delicate, gorgeous, and with a mysterious, unpleasant past.

First of all, I don’t know whether this is a problem with the translation or the actual writing, but I found it kind of dry in a way that I didn’t enjoy. It made it hard to focus on the book at certain parts (especially when endless brothers, sons, great-nieces of the Vanger family were being uncatalogued, or financials discussed) because my eyes kept glancing off of the words. The actual mystery, though, kept me riveted, even if I had guessed the murderer as soon as that characterw as introduced–there were still plot twists enough that I was surprised even so.

Some reviewers have made mention that this is a “righteously angry” book, which is an assessment that I can’t disagree with. It is almost oppressively so at times; leaning towards the self-righteous. Each chapter is headed off with a statistic about violence by Swedish men towards Swedish women–they are depressing, to be sure. But by contrast, some of the sexual violence in the book seems to be too graphic… not quite intended to titillate sexually, but to titillate our senses of horror, if that makes sense. I was uncomfortable in a way that went beyond the normal discomfort of reading a rape scene (it may have been the extremely clinical language contrasted with the violence and that character’s reaction to it…)

Another qualm I have is that supporting characters were rather two-dimensional. Even Blomkvist himself is a sort of a cypher, a “nice” man without many personality traits beyond being a decent person and the straight man to Salander’s screwball.

Either way, I can’t quite say that I enjoyed reading this book. I found it fascinating (except for the denouement, which went back to mind-numbingly boring financials and a revenge I didn’t care about), and will probably read the sequels, but it’s not going to be gaining a place on my bookshelf any time soon.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Stieg Larsson — The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

  1. I found the book a page turner but
    will not read the next two in the trilogy. The author has the “good guys” do unethical things in tying up
    the loose ends after the denouement. I have not had this experience with another author and am not some
    fringe moralist. I just read the book last week and then read the book reviews. (I wrote some of the reviewers asking how they could not
    have mentioned it in their reviews.)
    I had no problem with the sado masochism described in the book as it was part of the plot even though it was exagerated, but the author himself must have a problem with women. (Read review by MICHIKO KAKUTANI in the New York Times.) It is disconcerting reviewers accepted without comment such unethical (to me)
    actions just to tidy things up in a
    standard thriller read by millions.
    I am male 52, gay father raising a
    a 12 years old son living in NYC.

    • Thank you for your comments.

      I don’t think he necessarily has a problem with women; quite the opposite. The impression I got from reading all three of the books was that he was very concerned with how terribly Swedish society and Swedish men treated Swedish women, and part of the point of the books (besides the mysteries) was to expose this and skewer it. Whether or not he was actually successful is debatable; I think he had good intentions, but that he didn’t totally accomplish what he set out to do, partially because of bad choices with character personality and some plot points.

      As for the ending, I do agree that it was an unethical action by the characters and it bothered me as well, but more for the characters’ sake than Larsson’s sake. (I think I remember Lisbeth saying that there were videos and they should make an effort to at least track down the families of the women in them… though I can’t remember if this was before or after they decided not to tell anyone.)

      Not everything is going to have a neat, tidy, moral ending, unfortunately, so although it sort of boggled my mind that Lisbeth especially allowed what happened to happen, I wasn’t so much bothered that Larsson chose to end his book that way. It was saddening to think of the extent of the cover-up on all of the fictional families who had been affected, but I could understand why he chose to make that decision.

  2. I did not see your entire remarks when I wrote the first comment. Now realizing you have already read the book I will tell you my concern. A man and his son do random killings of innocent strangers over her course of 50 years! The “mystery” is solved and all involved decide to keep it all a secret because Harriet might feel bad, it might hinder her revitalizing of the family business, and thus jobs may be lost?

    That was unacceptable to me.

    It was argued why hurt another woman with the truth because so much evil had been done to many many murder victims.

    Something is wrong somewhere.

    Even logically, the main character, Lysbeth (?), as portrayed would never have allowed that to accur.

    What about the families of all those
    murdered women who will never know what happened to their missing loved one?

  3. Thank you for responding Amanda.

    I am still sorting my thoughts out as I write. . .

    An author has a choice as to which characters he gives which qualities. As an author if you give the positive, “heroic” characters unethical values what are you saying?

    As you noted someone, maybe the good uncle, did say something about following up, researching the victims from the videos and
    diaries, and sending their families money. Bizarre. What would the families have thought receiving anonymous money? That is a solution that
    only assuages guilt and has little to do with justice.
    What if the families were rich? You send them more money? It is a strange value system.

    His detailed s/m fantasies (did he have difficulty and hate writing them?) plus these moral blindspots only makes his emphasis on quotes about violence to women ring doubly odd.
    The anger readers identify coming from the
    author while reading this novel has complex
    sources.

    I can only reason the author devised the coverup because he himself did not think a coverup morally objectional and it served the function to tie up some loose ends? Then he, as you mentioned, devotes the rest of the novel to a morally insignificant-and as such, relatively boring –
    settling of scores with a minor character-the rather vague evil financier.

    (And what about the the lesser [literary] matter of character consistency? The character Lisbeth, as written up to this point, would never in a million years have considered the idea of a cover up acceptable. It is the opposite of all she stood for.)

    I read a lot but I’m not great at expressing my own logic in words. sorry.

    I recently read Crime and Punishment for the first
    time. It is a crime page turner that does not rely on serial killer “luridness”. (hard to believe that is an actual noun? and it doesn’t seem to have any synonyms either.)

    Andy H

    Have you read Tana French?

    • You do make some good points. I’m not sure if perhaps this is part of the reason I felt uncomfortable reading this trilogy.

      As for character consistency, Lisbeth also changes a lot throughout all three of the books… in ways I wouldn’t necessarily have predicted. For example I thought her “falling in love” with Blomkvist in this one was kind of odd and very random. I’m not sure if it’s a totally logical character development, but it’s certainly there. (Actually all of his romantic subplots are pretty bad, especially in the last novel. Undeveloped characters falling in love just at the drop of a hat.)

      Don’t worry, I’m sure I’m not coming across as clearly as I would like to either.

      I haven’t read Tana French (I actually don’t read a lot of thrillers/mysteries usually), but I just googled her and I may have to check her out.

  4. I usually don’t read thrillers either. Tana French is more than an thriller. I have read both her novels. Both are very good and different books. Often mystery writers write the same book over and over-not her. Her third book comes
    out in July and I am looking forward to reading it.

    If you do get a chance to read her let me know your thoughts.

    • Thanks again for the recommendation, it looks like our library has copies of both of her books, so I’ll try and check them out. I’ll definitely post about them if I do.

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