Saturday, March 20, 2010

Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

I really don't read mysteries. My husband thinks it's because I am a book snob despite the fact that I weaned myself off thumbing my nose at all but highbrow "lit-ruh-chure" many years ago now. But that really isn't the truth of it. I don't read mysteries (or thrillers or true crime or paranormal or anything even remotely similar to any of these) because I am a class A coward. Make that a class A coward with a shockingly overactive imagination. Yes, Nightmares R Us. And so I steer a wide berth around any book that might feed into this little problem of mine. So it was with a sinking feeling and no little amount of dismay to discover that one of my bookclubs would be reading this for March. The only positive as I saw it was that we did already own the book since I gave it to my husband for Christmas based on all the rave reviews I saw around the internet for it. (He is either blessed with a less active imagination or a stronger constitution or both and thus does read and enjoy mysteries.) Being me, I procrastinated on picking the book up until the very last minute, hunkering down with other books not likely to upset my sleep patterns. And then I realized that I had one day, a mere 24 hours, to read this 608 page behemouth before the book club meeting. The good? It's a fast and easy read. The bad? I was up until 1 am finishing it. The ugly? My husband was out of town so I was too creeped out to turn out the lights when I finished.

I'll be upfront and say that I didn't love the book. I know this puts me in the minority. I thought it was a decent read (albeit one that scared me) but not one that was sublime. The prologue opens with an elderly man getting a framed, pressed flower delivered on his birthday. He views this annual birthday present as a taunt from a murderer but the yearly flowers have afforded no further clues as to what really happened to his great-niece 40 years prior when she went missing, presumed dead. Jumping then to the first chapter of the novel, the reader is introduced to Mikael Blomkvist, a financial reporter who has just been found guilty of libel against a large and powerful player in the Swedish financial market. He is trying to figure out where his life and career will go now when he is hired to investigate the 40 year old disappearance of Henrik Vanger's great-niece and to write a family history of the Vangers, long-time financial giants. Although he is not a crime reporter, he is intrigued enough to take the job when the bait dangled in front of him is not only a large sum of money, but some hidden information that will allow him to take down the man who successfully sued him.

Meanwhile, 24 year old Lisbeth Salander, a young woman who is a ward of the state, perhaps because of her Asperger's like personality (the diagnosis here is entirely mine) and who is a genius at private investigating thanks in large part to her incredible computer skills, has been hired to investigate both Mikael Blomkvist and his nemesis, Wennerstrom, also by Henrik Vanger. Ultimately because of this connection, she ends up pairing up with Blomkvist to work on the long-unsolved mystery of what really happened to Harriet Vanger. As Mikael and Lisbeth start digging, they uncover many dark and appalling secrets about the Vanger family. Grisly murders are described and lead to the ultimate, somewhat surprising denouement of this thriller.

In order to flesh out his characters, Larsson not only focuses on the main thread of the narrative, the investigation into Harriet Vanger's disappearance, but he also makes many side excursions into the lives of Mikael and Lisbeth. The reader experiences for him or herself what makes these characters tick and why they react in the ways they do. While this makes for multi-dimensional characters, it also adds to the sometimes confusing narrative hops. Larsson will go from one character to another within the same chapter and without any warning, making for occasionally choppy transitions. There are also some sloppy bits at the very end that have no good explanation, dialogue that makes no sense given the recent developments in the plot line and one character who is dropped entirely despite her long-time proximity to the baddie. These things bothered me far more than they are likely to bother others, especially mystery fans who will be a bit more engaged in the book than I was. Hovering above the story always magnifies any faults and I just couldn't find my way into the story more deeply. The themes of violence against women, obsession, desire, and truth and justice all play out at different times in the novel, overlapping, highlighting, and occasionally tangling together. I really can't speak to this compared to other mysteries but I do think that most mystery lovers will thoroughly enjoy this one. Meanwhile, I am not pleased to note that this same bookclub is reading yet another book with a murder in it. Do you think they're trying to tell me something?


  1. I read this book a few months ago. Like many people I found the more financial bits at the beginning and end particularly confusing and not particularly interesting. The middle bit with the Vanger family investigation though was fantastic, page-turning stuff. Thankfully books like this don't give me nightmares though. I have the second and third books sitting here waiting for me to get to them too. I see in yesterdays paper that the movie of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is being reviewed. I'll probably go see it.

  2. I didn't want to read this book until I saw they were making a movie with Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley...and now I sort of want to. It's good to know what I'm getting myself into, though! I really appreciate your review.

    -Connie @ Constance-Reader

  3. I've had this book in my wishlist for ages! Sorry it didn't work out for you, but I liked your honest analysis. I like reading the other side of books that are very popular or not at all. Gives me a wholesome picture. Good review!

  4. I have been watching this book and the others in the series I have yet to read them but I am still interested.

  5. I'm with you about not liking a lot of murder mysteries, but my imagination isn't capable of coming up with pictures, so reading the book doesn't bother me as much as it does you. This is one movie I won't be seeing, however (shudder).

  6. Omg. I loved this book! I can't wait to read the next 2 or see the movie. I want to know more about Lisbeth. She is interesting to me. Not a character you find in a novel everyday. But of course not every book is for everyone. And if mysteries are not your thing, then that makes it all the harder to like a mystery/thriller. Much like I am hesitant to pick up a romance book like Heidenkind is always wanting me to. I already have doubts about it! lol. But even if you like a genre, not every book captures you. For instance I might be the only person ever to not like Tuesdays with Morrie. Just didn't do it for me.

    By the way, happy birthday! :)

  7. I liked the book. I was fascinated by the character of Lisbeth and that drew me in completely.

    Here is my review:

    The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson


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