Sparrow's Reviews > The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
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Jun 21, 12

bookshelves: chosen-girls, disturbing, hate-the-writing-respect-the-story, motherless-daughters, reviewed, monsters
Recommended to Sparrow by: every person in the whole wide world
Recommended for: NOT Elizabeth
Read from January 30, 2010 to June 19, 2012

Women are raised to routinely fear rape.

“If you go at night, take a friend.” “Check under the car and in your backseat before you get in.” “I’m just saying it’s a good idea to know where the exits are.” “I got you this whistle for your keychain, you know, just so you have it.” “You were an hour later than I thought you’d be! We called the police!” “Oh, that’s pepper spray; I keep it with me just in case.” “I just make sure I get my keys out and check for other weapons if I’m getting off work late.” “Is this weird? I live alone and I’m going running, so if I don’t call you by 11:15, call the police, okay?”

A woman who fights back – no, a woman who argues at all – does so knowing it will probably make her a social pariah.

“She’s just one of those women who makes life hell . . . like a Hillary Clinton type.” “You’re different; you’re not a ball buster like some girls.” “You know that rape accusations can destroy a man’s life, right? And when she said it, did you see how she looked? I mean . . .” “All girls do is complain and nag. Not you, of course – most girls.” “But it is really women who are the privileged ones to be covered and cared for by the man; all of the responsibility for decisions are on him.” “He didn’t mean it the way it sounded, so you'll just regret it if you tell him he's wrong.” “She never understood me, and now she’s making all of these claims and trying to take practically half of my paycheck. I think she was just in it for the money in the first place.” “All I said was she has a nice rack; what a bitch.” “That’s just life; make the best of it.”

And there is good reason we are raised to fear rape, and raised not to fight back: survival. Women know that if we walk alone in the dark, statistically there is a good chance we will get raped. If we go to the wrong party, we’ll be raped. If we misread that boy next door and his swellness is a con, rape. And when a person is in a position of being systematically controlled, it often does cause more physical or emotional damage to fight back. It’s not right, but it is realistic.

It seems to me like it is the equivalent of every man being raised that if he leaves the house at the wrong time, he might encounter a woman who will strip him naked, hold him down, and knee him in the balls while she masturbates. And then in this alternate universe, these boys find out, as they grow up, that most of the men they know have had that happen to them. And I’m not trying to minimize sexual assault experiences that involve little or no physical injury, nor am I trying to minimize sexual assaults against men: no one has the right to touch another person’s body without permission. I’m talking about the way women are raised to think of daily life. Women are not raised to be afraid we’re going to get a super hot BJ that we didn’t realize we wanted, which is sometimes how I feel people talk about rape accusations. We are raised to encounter our daily lives knowing that, even if violence wasn't in our past, violence probably is in our future. And every time someone says, “Don’t go alone,” it is a little reminder that a lot of men hate us.

I have to say, though, that while I think it is realistic to say that women are raised to fear rape and to incorporate that fear of rape into our daily routine, and that sometimes fighting back makes things more dangerous, I do not believe it is effective to live in fear or to encourage women to live in fear or not defend ourselves. I think that perpetuates an idea that women are powerless, which then encourages women to freeze up when encountered with violence or even conflict. I think trusting our instincts and learning martial arts is probably more productive.

And teaching men not to rape.

That seems like the approach this book takes, though it more directly simply reflects, with appropriate outrage, on the levels of male contempt for women. And I think in that way, in the way it is directed to men, it is about how gross contempt for women is, whether it takes the form of self-absorption or sadism.

This book is smart. It is symmetrical in its execution in many ways: in starting and ending with Blomkvist’s corporate corruption story, and in the way it shows men and women accused of race whoring, men and women subjected to violence. The juxtaposition of (view spoiler) is really well played. It is viscerally grotesque in the contrast, and it highlights the theme of consent. It was physically difficult for me to read, especially in the contrast, and I thought that made it very effective.

Salander’s character, too, is smart. She is both the outcast that women are when we fight back, and she is something of the misunderstood-bad-boy hero turned girl. I liked that. When she (view spoiler). It bothers me when a storyteller starts to let a girl save a guy, but really she only tosses him the gun to save himself. Salander gets some real action and some real credit, and it is satisfying.

Ultimately, it is pretty clear, but not laughing in your face, just resigned, Larsson knows (view spoiler). The hatred we condemn in this book, though, manifests as violence, and I can get behind featuring that and then fading out to Cicilia’s father condemning her as a whore and Blomkvist’s blissful self-absorption. It is a meaningful gradation. But, it is important that (view spoiler). And, aren’t we all assholes to each other a lot of the time? But not all of us get off on kneeing each other in the balls.

This struck me as a very masculine translation of male hatred of women and the way women navigate a world that tells us every time we turn a corner that it hates us. It seems like men either have considered what life would be like if they had been trained to fear leaving the house after dark, or they haven’t. And in my experience, it is difficult for men to understand a woman’s words if she tries to describe it, so I think it is important to have a man tell a story this way. I do see how the graphic descriptions of sadistic violence against women might allow a sadistic audience to read only for that, but the fact that Larsson balances this with graphic violence against men neutralizes the gender-hatred aspect of that to me. And if you are reading these books for the violence, see a psychiatrist, but I don’t think it is productive to censor descriptions of violence just because someone fucked up might get off on them. And if you think these descriptions are fantastical exaggerations, go spend some time at your local women’s shelter. Unfortunately, I think you will find you are wrong. And I don't think it does anybody any good to be afraid to tell these stories.

protesters holding a sign that says 'don't tell your daughter not to go out, tell your son to behave properly'

I hated the writing in this book a lot. Like, I hated it a lot. It both hit a lot of pet peeves of mine and it was just objectively bad in a lot of places. I don’t have a problem with books being badly written if the writing doesn’t get in the way of a good story, but here the writing was waiving its hands in my face the whole time trying to get me to lose the story. The sandwiches! OH TEH SANDWICHES! I wonder how much tourism for Sweden Larsson drummed up by the sandwich descriptions. I hope none because gag. I can see how he created the effect of an investigatory report through the writing, so, I think it is intentionally the way it is, but it was a choice I did not enjoy at all. So, overall this was a very unpleasant book to read, but it was smart, and its smartness outweighed its unpleasantness in my evaluation.

It is always kind of a funny experience to read your own words as someone else would write them. In every Willa Cather novel I have read, there has been a moment where I’ve read something and thought, “I just said that last week!!!” It was funny in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: I wanted to high five Salander all the time because I would think her dialogue right before I read it. I imagine everyone in the world has told me to read this book because of the times I say, “Oh, another man who hates women.” Or that it is bullshit to say someone had a violent childhood, so of course he had to be violent against women as an adult. So, it was funny to read somebody else say those words. At the same time, Salander felt like a man recording the facts of what he saw a woman do and say once, not like a living, breathing human character. That doesn’t take away from the smartness of the book, but it is another reason my actual enjoyment factor was low.

Also, I had to go buy pickles yesterday because reading about so many of them gave me a craving. I hope Larsson’s estate got some sponsorship money from the sandwich and pickle lobbies.
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Reading Progress

06/17/2012 page 114
25.0% ""The novel was about the author's attempt to get a handle on her sex life during a trip to Paris, and Blomkvist wondered whether he could be called a feminist if he wrote a novel about his own sex life in the voice of a high-school student." Awwww snap!"
06/17/2012 page 139
30.0% "This is one of those stories that is told the way my brother gives directions: "Then you pass a Burger King, but don't turn there; then you pass three streets on your left and two on your right, but don't turn there; then you pass a sign that says I-5 exit 3 miles, but ignore that" OH MY GOD JUST TELL ME WHERE TO TURN." 10 comments
06/17/2012 page 176
38.0% "These ladies are very frisky!" 3 comments
06/17/2012 page 211
45.0% "That was like Veronica Mars got a spot on HBO." 37 comments
06/18/2012 page 256
55.0% "It's kind of weird that Sweden has a statute of limitations for murder."
06/18/2012 page 204
44.0% "Her brother apparently did not notice that every word from their father struck her like a whiplash. Instead, Birger suddenly laughed and put his arm around his father and in his own way made light of the situation by making some comment to the effect that you know full well what women are like. He gave Cecilia a cheerful wink and suggested that Harald Vanger take up a position on a little ridge." 1 comment
06/18/2012 page 267
57.0% ""Armansky had never once heard her laugh before, and for years he had been trying to win her trust. Blomkvist had known her for five minutes and she was practically giggling with him. He felt such a loathing for Blomkvist at that moment that he surprised himself."" 5 comments
06/19/2012 page 348
75.0% ""How the hell did you find me, you and that anorexic spook that you dragged into this?" haha, and those pesky kids and their dog!" 5 comments

Comments (showing 1-50 of 268) (268 new)


message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Possibly not so great as my loathing for Blomkvist at any moment, but this may be beside the point.


Sparrow Huh, really? What do you loathe about him?


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

You'll probably want to wait to finish before reading my review, but I thought the whole thing was pretty misogynistic, and Blomkvist the smarmy exemplar of this. YMMV; I'm in a clear minority on this one.


Sparrow Yeah, I usually try not to read reviews before I finish a book. I've pretty much heard the story of this series like twenty times from different friends, though. But, not recently, so I am reading with a pretty fresh mind.


message 5: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Wait, are these actual passages from the books, or parodies of the book's style?


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

If you enjoy it, that's cool. I'm not trying to threadshit.


message 7: by Jessica (new)

Jessica *book


message 8: by Sparrow (last edited Jun 18, 2012 09:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sparrow They are actual passages. I don't care for the writing style, but I was posting the quotes to remember them because they are parts that I like. I am actually really liking it now. It definitely turned a corner for me. It seems really smart to me at this point.

But, that could change again, of course.


message 9: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Huh, it sounds like you are translating sort of awkwardly from Swedish... I did like the one about the feminist novel though! Hahaha.


message 10: by Sparrow (last edited Jun 18, 2012 09:03PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sparrow Yeah, I think Keg Keeland is translating awkwardly from Swedish for me. There are all these weird moments like hyphenated words that are normally compounds, and that totally bugs me because this woman I hate at school always sends out emails talking about the week-end. Definitely awkward.


Jason Sparrow wrote: "...because this woman I hate at school always sends out emails talking about the week-end."

Who does she think she is, Maggie Smith?


Sparrow But, would Maggie Smith even do that? I think the OED has accepted the compound of weekend. She is so terrible (not Maggie Smith, who is wonderful, but this school lady).


Jason No, I just meant that bit from Downton Abbey where she goes, "what is a week-end?" The way your "friend" hyphenates that just reminded me of that scene.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhfpBW...


message 14: by Sparrow (last edited Jun 19, 2012 10:14AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sparrow Ohhhh, yeah! hahahaha. That was such a good part. I obvs need to re-watch. And, funny enough, that is what people post on facebook every time this lady sends an email about the week-end, but I hadn't put that together. Good job catching me up on facebook double-inside jokes.


Jason Haha, it's my pleasure. :)


Nenia Campbell wow. are we long-lost siblings? because you pretty much touched on everything i liked and disliked about the book hahaha.

(totally bought a beef rueben sandwich after reading this because i was craving pickles and sauerkraut)


Jason OH TEH SANDWICHES, hahah

Are you going to continue the series? The violence just gets worse...


Sparrow Pikachu wrote: "wow. are we long-lost siblings? because you pretty much touched on everything i liked and disliked about the book hahaha.

(totally bought a beef rueben sandwich after reading this because i was cr..."


haha! I don't even usually like pickles! But, yumm, actually maybe I do.


Sparrow Jason wrote: "OH TEH SANDWICHES, hahah

Are you going to continue the series? The violence just gets worse..."


Oh, that's funny. My friend was saying last night that there isn't that kind of violence in the second and third.

I'm not sure. Not right away at least. I want to read the second in the Proust series, but, also, I want to get through some of the books I own but haven't read. I don't feel totally compelled to continue right away, but it seems likely that I will sometime in the future.


message 20: by Sparrow (last edited Jun 21, 2012 10:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sparrow I have to say that while I find reading the violence physically unpleasant, it made the book feel worthwhile. It did not feel sensational or unrealistic to me, even though I know in some ways it was, but it is truly the kind of thing you hear about working at the courthouse or in domestic violence work. I have done very little of that kind of work, and even I have heard cases like this. Not necessarily the serial killing, though I do think that happens.

Anyway, rather than feeling sensational, it really felt to me like a super pissed off journalist wanting to tell me about the shit people tell him every day. I thought it felt fair to describe the violence.


Jason Was that Nils Bjurman scene in this book?


Sparrow Yeah, it's like the first thing that actually happens in the book other than people eating sandwiches.


Jason Ok, for some reason I thought it was later. It's all a blur of rape and torture to me I guess. Glad you liked it, though. I thought it had a lot of flaws, but I liked it a lot too.


Sparrow Yeah, I don't know if I actually can say I "liked" it, even though there were things that I think I did like about it. But, I am glad it exists.


Jason After the David Fincher movie came out, I had this long friendly debate with my friend who questioned whether the amount of violence in this story is actually necessary. Like to the extent that it is such extreme violence. I mean people, women, get raped all the time, and yes rape is a violent crime, but is it always so extreme like the way it is portrayed in the book? Is Larsson guilty of sensationalizing it in order to make his books more "interesting"? Or were his intentions genuine? I think trying to answer that question is sort of interesting.


message 26: by Sparrow (last edited Jun 21, 2012 11:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sparrow Jason wrote: "After the David Fincher movie came out, I had this long friendly debate with my friend who questioned whether the amount of violence in this story is actually necessary. Like to the extent that it ..."

I think four years ago, I might have said it felt exploitative, but it didn't feel that way to me now. And, even then I might not have said that. It feels weird to say this, but, while I don't think the violence was necessary, and I think he could have written it without the violence, to me it didn't need to be necessary. I'm not totally sure I'm going to be able to say this in a way that makes sense, but I think it is bad that women fear describing the violence and hatred they have experienced, and I think describing violence, in and of itself, can be important.

I went to this DV training, and a woman came to one of the classes and talked about the years of violence she experienced at the hands of her husband. One of the things she talked about was how he would come home and break one of her fingers if she had done something he didn't like. And you could see her shaking while she was describing it, but she said, and you could fully tell, that one of the major reasons she was shaking was that it was so hard to tell the story - not because of reliving the story, but because it is bad to talk about experiencing violence.

I will say that if at any point, Larsson had described one of the victims as looking super sexy or whatever in her victimization, I probably would have burned the book. But, I think that talking about violence is actually important if it is for a purpose. The way he talked about the killings sounded to me like stories someone had told him, and stories that you actually read in court cases, so I thought it was effective that he told them. They didn't feel necessary, but they also didn't feel to me like, "Ohhhh, and what if someone did this?! Kinky!" Which would have made me really angry. I think it could have easily gone in that direction, but to me it didn't.


message 27: by Sparrow (last edited Jun 21, 2012 11:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sparrow To be more clear, I think it is bad for women to be afraid to describe violence they have experienced because I think it shifts the shame of the experience to the victim. I think it is fair to describe violence for the purpose of pointing out that it is insane and evil, even if it is physically uncomfortable to listen to. And I do think that Larsson consistently describes the violence from the victim's perspective.


message 28: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny For some reason, most Americans don't seem to get this book, but you clearly did. Nice work. And, sorry, I know this is my signature move, but it really does read much better in the original. He was an investigative journalist, and it comes across as well-crafted investigative journalist prose.


Sparrow Yeah, I thought about that, and I do think the translation is pretty appalling, but all those sandwiches and detailed descriptions of offices and "when he opened the door, he did so by turning the handle. Then he stepped through the threshold. He saw there were paintings on the wall. They were paintings of landscapes." It would be fine if it were relevant to the story, but I think it is self-indulgent in terms of editing because very little of the detail is relevant.


Tatiana Sparrow wrote: "Yeah, I thought about that, and I do think the translation is pretty appalling, but all those sandwiches and detailed descriptions of offices and "when he opened the door, he did so by turning the ..."

The editing gets worse with each book, IMO. And it is the weakest aspect of this trilogy for sure. One can only wonder what shape these books would have taken if the author didn't die before the tweaking of them was finished.


Sparrow It is funny because I was trying to think of what I would edit in the book, and I landed on the result that I wouldn't take out any of the scenes, but I would move Salander's report to Frode to the beginning, and I would take out a lot of the sentences in each scene. But, every scene felt important to me by the end, which I feel is an unusual editing issue.


Tatiana Sparrow wrote: "It is funny because I was trying to think of what I would edit in the book, and I landed on the result that I wouldn't take out any of the scenes, but I would move Salander's report to Frode to the..."

I remember in 3rd book very clearly that Larsson would describe the same events over and over again via his characters telling the same stories to other characters, and that totally needed to be edited out. For some reason, I don't remember being annoyed by sandwiches.


message 33: by Sparrow (last edited Jun 21, 2012 12:04PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sparrow haha! It is your Russian roots! They were such European sandwiches that they shocked my delicate American sandwich sensibilities.


message 34: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Larsson would describe the same events over and over again via his characters telling the same stories to other characters

That would be interesting if it were a Roshomon type deal with the characters having different versions of the same events.

They were such European sandwiches that they shocked my delicate American sandwich sensibilities.

One meal I had in Sweden had a sandwich as an appetizer to a steak. Awesome! But filling.


Sparrow That sounds very filling! These sandwiches were very pate based. I am not a fan of pate, and I kept picturing these people's poor digestive systems trying to handle bread, cheese, pate, pickles, and coffee all day. Guts of steel!

I imagine the repeat descriptions were not a Rashomon homage. There was some of that going on here, too, and the re-tellings tended not to be nuanced.


message 36: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny These sandwiches were very pate based.

Ah, I'm guessing you've never had leverpastej med gurka på rostad limpa. It's much better than you think. And if you have a chance, buy a tube of Kalles Kaviar (often on sale at IKEA stores) and try it on Swedish crispbread with butter and sliced hard-boiled eggs. Swedes really know about sandwiches.


Sparrow Well, I lived in Ukraine for a year, so yes, that type of sandwich played a very important part in my diet for some time. Not for me.


message 38: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny I guess tastes differ :)


Sparrow Yeah, even with sandwiches.


Bibliomantic I was doing just fine with the book until I saw you people mention the sandwiches. Now I see them everywhere! (I'll try to get over it, though, as I'm enjoying everything else about the book)


Sparrow hahhahaha. Sorry! We are contributing to saving the pickle industry, though! You're welcome, pickles. I hope they give me a commission.


message 42: by Miriam (new)

Miriam The sandwiches I liked in Sweden were basically just a heap of fresh shrimp on a piece of toast.

Speaking of IKEA, their Tangkorn ("caviar" made from seaweed) is really good, and vegetarian.


Sparrow Oh, I should try it! I do love seaweed. IKEA totally stresses me out, though, so usually when I get to the food court part, I'm like, "HOLY HECK, just push through! Don't look at the food!" Shopping is overwhelming.


message 44: by Miriam (new)

Miriam At least the one here, there is a separate grocery section and you can just duck into that from outside without going through the rest of the store at all.


Sparrow We only have one in Portland, so it's already a lot of work to get there. I realized just now, though, that I have been loving hard-boiled eggs lately, and now this pickle thing. Maybe my tastes are becoming Swedish! I should watch a bunch of Bergman and go snowshoeing! And get some tattoos!


Bibliomantic In Larsson's defense, I don't think he approves of the sandwich diet. Just earlier today I came across this passage,

He said that he had already eaten, which was partly true. He did not bother with cooking and ate only sandwiches. p.238

It seems like sandwiches aren't considered to be proper food. Perhaps it's a way for Larsson to emphasize how focused Blomkvist is on his projects by how little he cares about other things, such as eating good things. He stops by McDonald's at some point and tends to dismiss dinner invitations.


Sparrow Yeah, and Salander, too. I got the same impression - that it was intended to convey a thoughtless meal. But, man, every time! Every time they eat a sandwich he has to tell me about it! Overkill.


Bibliomantic Yes, that and the coffee.


Sparrow And specific dimensions of rooms that do not matter. Also, why is everyone's house 500 sq ft.? And why does Larsson seem so surprised at the square footage since everyone's house seems to be that big?


message 50: by Maya (last edited Jun 21, 2012 02:42PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Maya very interesting review, that focuses on some aspects of this book I have largely ignored. I barely remember any of the quotes o_O
Did you know that the original title of this is "Men who hate women"? It fits the story so much better than the English title imho. Or at least it makes the main issue of the book a lot clearer. The biography of the author is also pretty interesting in this aspect.


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