Friday, August 20, 2010

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson

Summary: Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is recently disgraced after being found guilty of libel for publishing a damaging article on a giant corporation in his magazine Millennium.  When he receives an unexpected offer from an aged corporate tycoon, Henrik Vanger, to spend a year working in rural Sweden, Blomkvist reluctantly agrees.  Henrik wants Blomkvist to write a chronicle of the Vanger family, but, secretly, he wants Blomkvist to investigate the mystery surrounding Henrik's grand-niece's disappearance decades before.  As Blomkvist gets deeper into the mysteries of the Vanger clan, he begins working with Lisbeth Salander, a young techno-wiz with secrets of her own.

Musings: Clearly The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a very popular book right now, and the novel certainly packs in the twists and turns of a good detective mystery.  The mystery itself, full of sensational violence and twisted psychopaths, is fairly standard, but what makes the book stand out is its complex protagonists, Blomkvist and Salander (the girl with the dragon tattoo).  In fact, I might argue they are a bit too complex and involved for the story itself, but I suppose that kind of detail is necessary to sustain a longer series.  Blomkvist is presented as a likable guy out to do the right thing by refusing to compromise his morals.  Apparently he's also irresistible to women (who could resist a middle-aged journalist?!), as he sleeps with nearly all the women he meets.  But don't worry, he's certainly not perfect--his relationship with his "occasional lover" Erika Berger broke up his marriage (and continues despite Berger's present marriage) and he rarely sees his child.

The English title, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, puts the emphasis on Salander, which is somewhat of a misdirection considering the content of the book.  She's a unique figure, and is the more interesting of the two "detectives" with her tattoos, piercings, and refusal to engage in "normal" social behavior.  However, she's not central to the plot, and her dragon tattoo (and her other tattoos) aren't even explained! Nonetheless, Blomkvist and Salander are an interesting odd-ball pairing, and I imagine the development of their relationship will guide the second book.

As most people know, the original title of the book, translated from Swedish, is Men Who Hate Women, and it's probably more apt than the English title (though I can understand why publishers would want to change it).  The violence perpetuated against women is discussed and mentioned in various forms throughout the novel.  I did appreciate the awareness given to these kinds of events, though the most prominent examples in the novel are so sensationalized and grotesque that the violence begins to seem far-fetched and veer more toward the realm of "torture porn" rather than really make a statement about the pervasiveness of violence against women.  There's also little understanding of why the violence occurs, in particular, against women.

Although I did mostly enjoy the book, the novel felt more like an extremely long episode of Law and Order: SVU than a groundbreaking new work.  The story drags in places, and the dramatic resolution to Harriet's mystery is somewhat cliche.  I wasn't attached enough to the characters to have to know what happens to them next, but I wouldn't mind reading the sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, the next time I have a lot of time to relax and read.


  1. I'm just ploughing my way through "Played With Fire" at the moment, having listened to "Dragon Tattoo" as an audiobook for a week when I was commuting for 4 hours a day. I also noticed the rather farfetched notion that Blomkvist manages to sleep with any woman who takes his fancy (unsurprising I felt, as Blomkvist is clearly based on Larsson himself), which continues into the next book - also, did you notice the obsession with coffee? Practically every time someone walks into a room, the coffee machine goes on. I haven't been able to drink a cup since without an image of Salander hoving into view.

    It does tackle issues that most thrillers don't, like violence against women, and fascism, which can't be a bad thing, I suppose, even if it is at times fairly heavy handed.

    It certainly kept me intrigued, never bored.

  2. Haha, yes, I definitely noticed the over-abundance of coffee drinking. You'd think there'd need to be a corresponding over-abundance of bathroom-going.

    I've thought about picking up Played With Fire a few times, but I think it's the sexual violence from the first (which, I believe, continues in the second) that puts me off. I'm all for raising awareness, but I feel like, for me, Larsson's writing fell too far into shock factor degradation. Maybe after more time I'll feel up to it.