Book Reviews

Book Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – Just Keep Reading

It took me a few years and constant badgering by a friend of mine who thought The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was the be-all-to-end-all of literature to finally get me to pick up this best-seller.  I don’t regret reading it, but the book is not without its problems.

The story follows two main characters of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.  Blomkvist is a reporter and publisher of a financial magazine who prides himself on being the type of reporter that digs up the truth rather than just re-writing blurbs issued by corporations’ public affairs division.  He just found himself convicted of libel in the case of one of the richest men in Sweden.  Salander is an investigator with a security firm whose attention to detail is outstanding and her ability to get information seems to be unbeatable.  Unknown to her employer, she’s also a ward of the state having been judged unfit to take care of herself.

In the days following the guilty verdict, Blomkvist is contacted by another Swedish captain of industry, Henrik Vanger.  Vanger uses Blomkvist’s circumstances to bait him into writing the story of the Vanger family.  That’s the assignment on the surface, at least.  The real purpose of his poking around in the family business is to possibly solve the mystery of the disappearance and apparent murder of Vanger’s beloved niece, Harriet, more than thirty years earlier.  Blomkvist doesn’t think there is a possibility of his being successful in that endeavor, but the money Vanger is dangling in front of him in the face of his recent legal troubles is the kicker.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo starts slowly.  It took me a full quarter of the book before it really hooked me.  If I hadn’t had someone telling me it was going to get really good, I likely would have put it aside.  That said, once I waded through all of that, it hooked me so I devoured the rest of the book in a few days.

The mystery of what happened to Harriet Vanger is only a part of it, but it’s a really good part.  The twists and turns and skeletons in the Vanger family closet are riveting.  The pace with which they are revealed is excellent, keeping me intrigued as soon as this kicked into high gear.  I also found the background of Lisbeth to be intriguing as well. I wanted to know more about her and Larsson is good at keeping her a mysterious figure.  I loved how he got into her mind and showed the reader how she viewed the world. I always knew the world was a hostile place, but seeing through her eyes gives new meaning to that world.  I was afraid he was going to tie her into the story a little too neatly and was relieved when that suspicion I had early on didn’t pan out.

The weak spot I found was Blomkvist.  I didn’t find him to be a sympathetic character, but perhaps that’s the point. Do all of our heroes have to be likable?  I didn’t find him to be.  There are various reasons for this, some of which have to do with pivotal points in the story.  While his personal life is what made him not all that likable to me, his professional side is what kept me glued to the book.  His attention to detail and abilities as a reporter is convincing as he’s able to decipher things that happened thirty years before that no one else has been able to find.  I’m curious to read the next two books in the series to see if my discomfort with some of his character’s actions gets resolved. However, after the trouble I had getting into this book, I’ll wait a bit before tackling the next one.

Larsson is great at creating characters with some depth in Lisbeth and Mikael, no matter how much I didn’t care for him at times.  He’s a little less creative with some of the Vanger family since I left feeling like I didn’t know why some of them did a few of the actions earlier in the novel when I was still trying to figure out the mystery. Yes, some of them are broken in some pretty messed up ways, but there are a few things that happen early on with Cecelia, for instance, that left me scratching my head.

There are moments in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that will leave people uncomfortable.  There’s a lot of sex, some of which is pretty brutal.  There are a couple of scenes involving rape and bondage that are unsettling even to the most open mind.

Despite the issues I had with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I do think it’s worth the read. Once it kicks into gear it is hard to put down.  However, it takes time to get there and those pages can be pretty tedious. 

3 replies »

  1. I read this one (my husband bought it as a Christmas gift for me on the advice of a clerk at Barnes & Noble’s). You are correct that it was interesting and the pacing great. I however felt that it was written by a man for men. Blomkvist is a middle aged man who is not described as handsome or dashing – yet he manages to sleep with nearly every female in the book! I found that to be a bit unrealistic….

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