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Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

August 11, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I would really like to give this book 3.5 stars. Three just doesn’t seem like enough to express how interesting I found the title’s namesake or how the story kept me on the edge of my seat. Yet four seems like too many for a book not particularly well-written. Let me explain.

The title character, Lisbeth Salander, immediately piqued my interest. She is one of society’s fringe-dwellers, and one about whom most would immediately categorize upon sight and file away in a neat little box. But like most people, there is more to Lisbeth Salander than meets the eye. The other main character, Mikael Blomkvist, had to grow on me. I found him rather ordinary at first, but he picks up steam not quite half-way through the book.

Unfortunately, the first half of the book is mostly about Blomkvist and his career as an investigate financial journalist. While not completely uninteresting, I kept waiting for things to get good, to see more of Salander, and to get on with the intriguing story dangled in front of me in the prologue.

Once the murder mystery part of the book picked up, I had trouble putting it down. Even after the mystery gets interesting, it still takes awhile before our two protagonists meet and form their unlikely partnership. The book is subdivided into four parts, and each part starts with a statistic about the abuse of women in Sweden. Even this theme was slow to develop as we spent time with Blomkvist and his journalistic pursuits. It’s no secret that the author based Blomkvist’s character on himself, and I think the book suffers from its strong initial focus in this area.

The mystery itself is gripping, on-the-edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Actually, entertainment is probably not be the best word to use, as Blomkvist and Salander unearth many gruesome, heinous facts and behaviors along the way. However, this is the point of the novel: not to entertain with plot twists and unexpected discoveries, but to expose the horrific, silent abuse and crimes suffered by women. In that sense, it was both hard and good to read.

A warning for anyone who is squeamish: this books deals heavily with aggravated sexual assault. There is much discussion of past crimes as well as scenes of assault happening “live.” I am curious to see how the Swedish film handles this (and the upcoming Hollywood film). I don’t mind reading about such things, but I would hate to see it played out in front of me. There’s also a decent amount of promiscuity and foul language (more of the former than the later).

As to the main reason I docked this book a star (or half a star): Stieg Larsson is not a great composer of words. Great literature this book is not. I wonder how much, if any, it suffered in translation. His dialog was very believable, but his descriptive passages could have used some work. At almost 600 pages, I’d say there was room to trim things down a little.

Another point in favor of the book: it made me think. I’m dying to find someone else who has read it to discuss the views Larsson posits and the questions he raises.

I also found it fascinating to read a book set in Sweden and written by a Swede. My paternal grandmother was Swedish, and I’ve always wanted to visit the country of my ancestors.

I’m planning to read the next book in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, if only to see where Lisbeth Salander goes from here. I have heard that it’s a bit better than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

One side note: ads for the book and movie version where everywhere in London, especially in tube stations. It was fun to be reading it while there! Also, I love the name Lisbeth.

View all my reviews >>

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2010 1:33 am

    Interesting take – I actually read the second book first, and was mildly concerned that it was going to mess up my reading of the first installment, but that wasn’t the case.

    I guess I concede your point about SL’s descriptive passages – they aren’t the reason one reads the novels, I suppose; they’re there just to give context. The point about translation? That seems like it makes a lot of sense.

    I think what’s most impressive about this novel – although really, I can’t help but wonder if SL wanted people to appreciate the trilogy as one BIG novel – is how he melds a variety of genres, from mystery to techno-thriller to character study. Some might dock it for points just because it’s so ambitious, but I would count it as degree of difficulty.

  2. August 12, 2010 8:24 am

    I’m so glad you wrote this! It was very informative and thorough. I’ve been toying with the idea of reading the book for some time now, but was waiting until I heard a yae/nay from one of my trusted friends…

  3. August 13, 2010 8:56 pm

    I’ve thought about reading this book as well. I think I’m going to have to read it now. Thanks for the review, Sarah.

  4. Pete permalink
    August 17, 2010 12:19 pm

    Here is a review on the swedish film
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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