Book Review – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The hardest part of reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy is knowing that there won’t be more than just those three books. Larsson, who died before the three novels featuring Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander were fully released in his native Sweden, created an unusual pair of characters that it is impossible not to find captivating.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has two layers to the main plot, which makes for a dynamically engaging story. The focus of much of the novel is disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist’s investigation into an unsolved mystery surrounding the 1966 disappearance of a member of the prominent Vanger family. The reason he has the time to devote a year to reviewing a thirty-year-old cold case is his recent conviction for libel against a prominent but shady figure in Sweden’s financial sector, Hans-Erik Wennerström. Blomkvist accepts that what he wrote does legally constitute libel, but he will be more careful and calculating when the time comes to take on the magnate a second time.

I have to admit, there are moments of predictability but they are presented and moved on from without the plot turning into a cliché. Additionally, those elements that cannot be predicted are far more surprising, shocking, and unexpected that they more than make up for any lulls of foresight. The novel was anything but boring.

The main mystery regarding Harriet Vanger’s disappearance progresses quite slowly and logically, but the pacing of the novel is very comfortable and rarely drags. This is due largely to the scene stealing Lisbeth Salander. The tiny, tattooed, troubled young woman has problems playing nicely with others and yet she does what everyone wishes they had the guts and/or knowledge to do. Though only a portion of her character’s disturbing history is laid out in this first novel, I look forward to reading more about her in the subsequent pieces of the trilogy. There’s nothing wrong with Mikael Blomkvist, but for me, he’s just there because he complements Salander.

A great deal of credit must go to Reg Keeland, the translator. Though there were times when I felt a little out of the loop and wished I knew more about Swedish history and the current pop culture of Sweden, Keeland did a wonderful job adapting Larsson’s novel for an English reading/speaking audience far removed from Sweden. I may go out and find some books about Swedish history and culture before diving into The Girl Who Played with Fire (which, I admit, is already taking up space on my To Read bookcase).

A fair warning must be given to those who have a hard time dealing with graphic violence and explicit subject matter. There are several scenes of a graphic nature with gruesome, gory details. However, if you can stomach shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Criminal Minds, then go ahead and give in to the appeal of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The psychology presented by the characters and their interactions is absolutely fascinating.

Now, I’m off to learn everything I can about Sweden.

 

The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

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6 thoughts on “Book Review – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

  1. jim says:

    this is awesome man

  2. AndersH says:

    Hi, any specific questions about Swedish culture?

    • Not really specifics. I’m more curious about the history during the time between WWI and WWII (the rise of Swedish Nazism; I took a seminar examining its rise in Europe last fall but we didn’t cover the specifics of it in Sweden).

      I also think it would be interesting to find an English translation of the Kalle Blomkvist books to see just what they’re like. Maybe read them to my niece.

      • AndersH says:

        I think Sweden at the time was, considering the strong connections between Sweden and Germany at the time, basically followed the trajectory of Germany in the late 20s/early 30s, but less so. Sweden had in large part managed to avoid the German post-war upheaval (it helps not being defeated) and thus had lessened the role of radicals and undercut the potential broad popular support for a Nazi movement. However, anti-semitism was of course quite wide-spread, and more importantly in this case was the same blindness among some of the upper/upper middle class that was also present in Germany as the Nazis rose to power (see the actions of German parties such as Zentrum).
        In short, their opposition to universal suffrage and socialism and their adherence to old-fashioned aristocrat and nationalist values led them into the arms of the new nationalist movement – the Nazis. In Germany it happened fluidly as the Nazis gained power among the populace, in Sweden it happened after the Nazis had gained power in Germany, since they couldn’t have had such a development in Sweden.
        What this meant was that several supposedly mainstream Swedish conservatives welcomed the role of the Nazis, as a sort of last gasp of nationalism-based opposition to mass democracy.

        I don’t think the Kalle Blomkvist books have been translated, unless you know German!

        • Thanks for the information. Color me interested. I’ll definitely be looking into this more now that I know better what to look for. Thanks again. (And that’s disappointing about the Kalle Blomkvist books. I guess I’ll have to add “learn German and/or Swedish” to my list of things I want to do when I find the time.) 😉

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