Sort of a Book Review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Full disclosure: This is less a book review and more a suggestion that you not begin reading this book at all, since it bored me so badly that I had to stop reading it myself. And, I know, I know, this novel is old news and everyone else has moved on, but since the US film adaption is out next month, it’s back on my mind.

First, I realize it’s a bit unorthodox to review a book I wasn’t able (or willing) to finish reading, but if you’re anything like me, once you’ve begun a book, it’s hard to stop ““ even if you’re not enjoying it at all; which is why I hope to spare you that scenario and instead advise that you not begin reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the first place.

I fully admit that at page 125, I gave up, but I’ll still attempt to recount what I remember about those awful first 125 pages. [SPOILER ALERT for the easily spoiled contingent, of which I am a part] The novel’s main character, a man named Blomkvist, is the publisher of a Swedish magazine that covers current events and political scandals. He finds himself the defendant in a libel suit filed by a billionaire who probably becomes important later in the story and who owns a yacht. Blomkvist is found liable (though I think unjustly?) and gets a jail sentence (apparently in Sweden, libel is a crime rather than a tort) and steep fines. In the aftermath he’s contacted by the former CEO, a guy named Vanger, of an (I think) unrelated, or at least initially unrelated, bigwig Swedish corporation. Vanger invites Blomkvist to his compound on a fairly remote island and they have a really boring fifty page conversation about the disappearance of Vanger’s niece. You’d think the details of a mysterious disappearance would be interesting, but they’re not.

Also, Blomkvist hires an investigator named Salander; she dresses funky and has tattoos, this is meant to make her seem very interesting, but it doesn’t.

Also, Blomkvist has been having a long term affair with a colleague, this is perhaps meant to make Blomkvist seem like a complicated, tortured soul, it doesn’t.

That’s honestly the best I can do to sum up what I read since the book didn’t hold my attention at all. But for the sake of balance, I feel compelled to let you know that several of my friends have raved about this book. That said, all of them included the caveat that the novel gets off to a slow start.

To me, a slow start means the first 20-40 pages drag. Because of the raves, I was certainly willing to put up with a slow 20-40 pages, but the first 125 pages of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo drag. Actually, they don’t exactly drag so much as bump along half dead and confusedly, alternating back and forth from character to character and storyline to storyline without apparent continuity or reason. And the book’s setup (or what I can only guess was meant to be a setup) includes a ridiculous amount of detail about things that the average non-Swede (this book was translated from Swedish, I assume something’s been lost in the translation) would likely neither understand nor consider crucial to the story (like the make and model of small arms used in the Swedish Army). But then again, I never finished the story, so it’s possible, I suppose, that details like which Swedish cities have overpriced real estate in their industrial districts become very important to the plot (or a plot that I can only hope eventually develops, since by page 125, one had not yet emerged).

If you have a hard time giving yourself permission to stop reading books that you’re not enjoying, please consider avoiding this one altogether. You have my full support.

6 thoughts on “Sort of a Book Review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson”

  1. I liked the book, but yeah, the first half is incredibly slow. It’s a lot of background information, which can be a real goddamn chore to get through, but in the end most of it ends up being stuff you needed to know. Still, the setup could have been executed better. I imagine if he’d been alive when the publishers got hold of the books, he’d have had an editor to guide him through some rewrites. Maybe someone named Ulrika, who would say things like “you’re dragging, here,” or “you really don’t need to keep describing all the stuff they have at IKEA.”

    I liked the second book better, and I only just borrowed the third one from somebody, so we’ll see how that goes.

    This is just one of those books that I liked, despite how tedious it tended to be.

  2. The problem with the book is basically that there is a shitload of background information before you get to any story. I wouldn’t say it’s actually much filler, more that it is setting up some things for the story. There also are a lot of reference that are probably lost on me since I am not Swedish. The first part of the book took me about 2 weeks to wade through. Once I got about halfway through though, I finished the rest in a day or two.

  3. I have this on my Kindle and I’ve read the first few pages.  The thing is . . . I remember reading that the author wrote strong female characters and was pro-feminism and all that, but now it seems well-known that truly horrific things happen to more both the female lead and other minor characters.   Like .. .to the point that he has all of the women tortured in some way and the men skip through scot-free. 

    So for those who have read this book:  Was the author pro-women?  Or sadistic ?  Or what?

    I’m not sure how far I’ll get in this book, or if I’ll see the movie.   It got popular enough to make me curious . .. but then, so did ‘The Help’ and that was a disappointment after all of the hype.  :-/

    Anyone?  Thoughts?

    1. I think it’s pro-women in that the author doesn’t stint on his disgust at the male perpetrators. He shows how, even in Sweden, women can and are still victimised. The original title of the book is The Men Who Hate Women, which is an indicator of Larsson’s blunt attitude about men who hurt women.

      As for the men getting their just desserts, well that definitely happens in all three books, sometimes in a very brutal manner.

      I think all three books would’ve benefited from stricter editing. The books are rather bloated and the prose is sometimes painful. Having said that, I was still riveted and enjoyed getting to know the very unconventional Lisbeth Salander.

    2. Women and men are both the objects and perpetrators of violence in the books, but I think you (general you) have to willfully misread them to think that the author advocates violence against women.  Perhaps if the original title was kept in the English language translation (Men Who Hate Women) it might have prepped people on the viewpoint in the novels, but there is a strong undercurrent of disgust at the way women are victimized individually and by the system, and how it gets swept under the rug by society.

      That said, I found the books a bit stilted, but I suspect it’s a combination of the translation and the conventions of Swedish crime novels.

      * Edited to add — I didn’t have a problem with the violence in the book, which I felt very distant from, but found it very difficult to watch in the original movie version. I have rarely seen a movie where I physically felt like I was going to throw up, but this one provoked a very visceral reaction on my part. Just as an FYI/warning.

       

Leave a Reply