Monday, January 3, 2011

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Author: Stieg Larsson
Series: 1/3 in the Millennium Trilogy
Genre: Mystery/Fiction

Pages: 480
Warnings: Violence, Rape, Rape of Minors, Abuse
Rating: 3/5

Ho boy. I don't think it's possible to talk about this book without mentioning violence against women. Seriously, every aspect of this book is steeped in it. Rape, child abuse, domestic violence and sexual harassment affect every character in this book. It was a real downer.

There are mitigating factors though. Stieg Larsson very clearly thinks this violence is a horrible thing, and so he portrays it from the point of view of the victims. No matter why an author chooses to include violence, I find reading about such awful deeds can be extremely unpleasant. Knowing Larsson had his heart in the right place doesn't always make it less painful while you're reading about an assault, but it did make it easier for me to read about them.

In good news, one of the main characters, Lisbeth Salander, is amazing. [Spoiler] She is raped early on in the novel, but she never behaves like a victim. She fights back viciously and makes sure that the man who raped her never wants to rape another women.[/Spoiler] I can imagine how her unflinching resolve could scare someone, but she reserves her hatred for "men who hate women". Actually, "Men who hate Women" was the Swedish title of this novel, and I think it fits. It certainly gives the reader a better idea of what you're getting into.

On the other hand, Larsson has written two very resourceful main characters, Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Obviously I cheered on Salander like the vigilante she was, but I found Blomkvist annoying and rather full of himself. He was too bland compared to the rest of the novel. 

I thought the story was a pretty basic murder mystery, nothing to write home about. If you like that sort of book, jump right into this, since a healthy portion of the novel is about finding clues. There was a second mystery that results from Blomkvist being sued at the beginning of the book, which does give Larsson an excuse to focus on lighter topics which I felt ambivalent about.

I wasn't sure about the tone of the actual writing, since it could very easily be a product of the translation. What I did enjoy where the descriptions of the Swedish landscape, and the sea faring turns of phrase. The descriptions where short, which is excellent for me because if an author spends more than a paragraph explaining the scenery I'm likely to skip the entire thing, as well as being spacial, so instead of a painting of the view I got a feel for where the main character was. I do not know any nautical metaphors, but Larsson used a few in the book and I noticed them because I couldn't find my way around a boat to save my life. I liked them because, with Larsson's main character being a sailor, they felt genuine.

If you're looking for light, relaxing entertainment, I would advise looking elsewhere, no matter what sort of hype you've heard about it. I found the violence difficult to slog through to get to a vanilla murder mystery. However, if you like gritty novels or the like, go right ahead. I might read the second book in the series, if only to see Salander kick in a few more heads!


  1. I'm in the middle of it right now and finding it an engaging read. I picked it up at a second-hand bookstore the day after seeing the movie (the Hollywood version) in which the violence is even more harrowing and difficult to watch than in the book. I agree that Salander is by far the most interesting character, and it's probably worth the read just to meet her.

    1. How was the American version? I actually stopped watching during the rape scene of the Swedish version, so that sounds rough.

      However, yes. Salander is pretty much a comic book hero for me. She's just this ridiculously perfect hero character who can get whatever she wants done.