Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
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Sep 08, 09

bookshelves: crime, mystery-suspense, fiction, 2009
Recommended to Shannon (Giraffe Days) by: Kiwiria
Read in September, 2009

In 1966 sixteen-year-old Harriet Vanger, daughter of the CEO of the large family-run Vanger Corporation, goes missing from her family's island community and is never seen again. Not even a body is found, and her great uncle, Henrik Vanger, has explored every possible lead to discover what happened to his one and only favourite family member.

Over the last forty years her disappearance has become Henrik's obsession, and he's positive someone in the family murdered her - but they never found a motive, and without one he doesn't know who to suspect. Now, in 2005, Henrik has little time left as he grows old and plenty of money to indulge in his obsession one last time.

Mikael Blomkvist is a forty-something financial journalist and editor of Millennium magazine, a magazine he co-founded which prides itself on investigative journalism. But Blomkvist and the magazine have just suffered their first big blow: he's been convicted of libel against one of the biggest business entrepreneurs in Sweden, Hans-Erik Wennerström.

Wanting to keep a low profile and pretend he's been fired from the magazine in order to try and save it from further attack by Wennerström, Henrik Vanger's proposition comes at an ideal time. Mikael's father once worked for the Vanger Corporation, and Harriet herself had babysat little Mikael a few times. Henrik offers Blomkvist a year-long contract with the pretext of writing a history of the family - an autobiography of Henrik - while his real mission is to discover what happened to Harriet.

After some convincing, Blomkvist takes the job - but when he discovers the first new evidence since the tragedy occurred, he realises he needs help - and who better to go to than the private investigator who did such a good job on Blomkvist when Henrik hired her?

Lisbeth Salander is a quiet, secretive young woman who excels at what she does because she's also a genius hacker. With a troubled past and a dicey present, her trust in Blomkvist takes her by surprise. The two team up to discover the truth about Harriet, and to take Wennerström down.

Thanks to a friend of mine, who also recommended this to me, I knew the English translation of the original title before I started reading this, which is Men Who Hate Women. This is actually very interesting and worth mentioning. It's certainly an apt title; perhaps not obvious at first, after a while it becomes a very clear theme. It may also give it away a bit. But I can also understand why they went with a very different title for the English translation. Lisbeth is "the girl with the dragon tattoo" - among other tattoos and piercings - and she is one of two main characters. The second book's English title is "The girl who played with fire", so you can see they're going with their own theme here.

More importantly, though, such a title is more appealing to an English-language audience. Titles, like covers, that feature girls or women - or wives - are popular and sell well. This is an intriguing title, and doesn't give away the genre. When this book first came out, the hardcover was marketed to a literary crowd. This is the mass market paperback edition, and with a quote from Harlan Coben on the cover along with the style of cover itself (and the long, narrow format), it is more clearly pitched at the Mystery mob (hence why both my parents-in-law read this before I did).

It is a mystery, and a thriller at times, and a detective book - but it's also a political and economic commentary, has one of the more original and daring heroines of the genre, and is invigorating in its details. I don't read many mystery novels, because (ironically), I find them boring. Aside from a quiet patch at about the two-quarter mark, I never found this book boring, even though not a whole lot happens until the last third.

Both Blomkvist and Salander are engaging protagonists, for very different reasons. Things happen to them that will make you upset and angry, especially Salander, whose side story holds you enthralled and revolted at the same time, as does the truth about Harriet - but there's nothing gratuitous here, or unnecessarily included or described: it's all relevant.

The pacing is superb (yes, even with that "quiet patch"), and the plotting cleverly controlled. The cold of Sweden - at times down to -35F (which makes the 44F of Shiver seem somewhat laughable) - was vividly realised, as was the setting of Hedeby Island. I would have liked to "see" more of Sweden - everything was terribly familiar - but a mystery book isn't really the place for that.

This is a very mature book, with themes that make you despair yet are handled so compassionately that you are never alienated. I also enjoyed the economic side of the other plot line, and Blomkvist's words towards the end were very apt considering the recent problems with the American stock exchange and subsequent recession, when he's asked by a TV host about "the fact that Sweden's economy was now headed for a crash." He calls it nonsense, and goes on to explain something which I think we all tend to forget:
"You have to distinguish between two things - the Swedish economy and the Swedish stock market. The Swedish economy is the sum of all the goods and services that are produced in this country every day. There are telephones from Ericsson, cars from Volvo, chickens from Scan, and shipments from Kiruna to Skövde. That's the Swedish economy, and it's just as strong or weak today as it was a week ago. ... The Stock Exchange is something very different. There is no economy and no production of goods and services. There are only fantasies in which people from one hour to the next decide that this or that company is worth so many billions, more or less. It doesn't have a thing to do with reality or with the Swedish economy." (p819)

Sure that's a simplistic way of putting it, but his description of the Stock Exchange pretty neatly sums up the way I've always perceived it - and scorned it. So I enjoyed this exchange, and the whole Wennerström sub plot, as much as the mystery about Harriet itself.

The other side of the commentary that's strong and interesting is the issue of journalistic responsibility, and ethics. Decisions are made at the end that are highly questionable, but there are no easy answers - Blomkvist is the voice of our conscience here, and yet you can see the other side too. I don't envy him his position!

I have no complaints with this book, but I have one to the publisher: I really hate the new, narrow format of mass market paperbacks. (Thankfully, only a few books get printed like this.) They're just so tall and ... skinny. It certainly doesn't save any paper, and makes me feel like I'm falling off the edge of the page at the end of each line, which barely fits five words. I don't care for the larger typeface and roomy layout either - I like tighter lines and smaller fonts, personally. That would have saved paper!
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by Megan (new) - added it

Megan Hey I see that your reading the girl with the dragon tattoo. I was just wondering what you thought of it so far? I am planning on reading it sometime, hopefully.

Thanks,
Megan


Shannon (Giraffe Days) I've finished and am about to tackle my review - but the short version is that I liked it very much!


message 3: by Nan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nan This was one of my favorite novels that I read this year. Thanks for such an excellent review!


Jeffrey Not to give anything away but didn't you think the ending was fairly predictable in what happens to Lisbeth and her love for Blomkvist?

I have the second book out of the library now.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) Jeffrey, it did lead up to it yes, but do you mean the very very ending when she calls herself a twit, or just her falling in love? I didn't mind it, anyway. I don't think she's half as abnormal as she thinks she is - because she's been convinced of it by other people all her life. So she was bound to fall in love one day and Blomkvist ... fits. I didn't find it predictable myself only because, for once, I wasn't really thinking about the romance side of the story! Funny that.




Jeffrey Shannon wrote: "Jeffrey, it did lead up to it yes, but do you mean the very very ending when she calls herself a twit, or just her falling in love? I didn't mind it, anyway. I don't think she's half as abnormal as..."




Jeffrey I mean both the falling in love and seeing him with the other person -- Blomkvist nature. I thought your review telling about the alternate name fo the book by the way was very revealing.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) I see what you mean. She already knew his nature though didn't she. Well, I quite liked the way it ended - and they have two more books to sort themselves out with right? I honestly didn't predict it as an ending but it worked neatly.

I learnt yesterday that the English title for the third book is "The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest", which is rather clunky and obvious but better than a direct translation of the original, which would be "The Castle in the Cloud that got Blown Up" - hilarious isn't it?!


Jeffrey That is funny.


Maria M. Elmvang I'm always available for your translation needs ;)

... as long as we're talking Danish or Swedish anyway!


Shannon (Giraffe Days) Yes that's why I keep you around don't you know? ;)


Maria M. Elmvang I knew there had to be some reason! ;)


message 13: by Joy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joy great review--LOVE THESE BOOKS

Joy


Shannon (Giraffe Days) Aren't they GREAT?!!

Thanks Joy :D


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