Madeline's Reviews > The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
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Jan 26, 12

bookshelves: the-movie-is-better, no-judgements
Read in January, 2009

After having leaped onto the bandwagon with the rest of everyone, I feel a certain amount of pretentious indie pride saying that I wasn't as awed by this book as everyone else apparently was. Which is not to say that the book wasn't enjoyable and exciting; it just didn't knock my socks off whilst simultaneously blowing my mind and rocking my world. (that sounds like either some great song lyrics or a very complicated sexual maneuver. Let's go with the first option.)

So, the good stuff: the main story - a disgraced journalist is hired by a rich old man to write a book about said man's crazy rich family, while secretly working to discover truth behind the disappearance and supposed murder of the man's granddaughter. Also in play is Lisbeth Salander, a freelance investigator who also happens to be one of the best hackers in Sweden. She also happens to be made of awesome, but I'll get to that later.
The journalist is investigating a supposed murder (a body was never found, so no one even knows what happened to the girl), so violence is expected. I just wasn't quite prepared for just how intensely graphic the violence is. There's a lot of stuff dealing with assault, rape, and murder of various women. There is also a lot of sex in the book, and the stuff that gets described in the most detail is definitely not consensual and will probably make you very uncomfortable. You've been warned.
The investigation itself is pretty fascinating, implausible as it is that some random guy investigating a disappearance that took place 40 years ago was able to find out completely new leads that weren't found by the police or the girl's grandfather (who's been obsessing about the case since forever), but I digress. The family itself is equal parts interesting, creepy, and frustrating. It's not until the journalist (Blomkvist) teams up with Lisbeth that things get really interesting, and they made such a fun team I wanted them to get their own detective show.
The book deals mainly with crimes against women and those who commit them. Larsson obviously feels very passionately about this subject, as well as what should be done with the men who assault women. Without giving anything away, rest assured that every bad guy rapist/murderer/whatever gets a large helping of tasty justice.

And now for the bad stuff:
-There's a lot of nattering on about business and computers and journalism and more business stuff that either bored me or went over my head completely.
-Larsson cannot seem to decide whether he wants to refer to people by their last name or their first name, so he switches back and forth and it is confusing.
-A family tree is provided at the beginning of the book, since the family the journalist is investigating (the Vangers) is pretty big, but I never had much trouble keeping everyone straight. A map of the island the family compound is located on would have been much more helpful, since I never really figured out the geography of the place.
-Pointless details. I don't need to know what the characters ate for every single meal, I don't need to know exactly what model of computer/motorcycle/car a character uses, and I definitely don't need to know what each character is wearing at every moment of the day. Larsson is especially guilty of this when Lisbeth is concerned - I guess he decided we wouldn't understand what a unique counterculture tough chick she is unless we know that she's always wearing leather jackets, boots, torn jeans, and black t-shirts with angry slogans. (yes, Larsson actually tells us what each of Lisbeth's t-shirts says.) Listen, Stieg: Lisbeth is awesome. She is wonderfully defined simply through her own actions and thoughts - we don't even need the other characters constantly reminding us how antisocial and tough and uncommunicative and badass she is. Believe me, we can see that. Show don't tell etc.

To sum up, I'm going to give the last word to the book itself, and quote a sentence that's actually a character talking about a book featured towards the end of the story - but it could easily describe Larsson's book:
"It was uneven stylistically, and in places the writing was actually rather poor - there had been no time for any fine polishing - but the book was animated by a fury that no reader could help but notice."

That, in a nutshell, was how I felt about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

UPDATE: I just watched the film version of this book (the original Swedish one, thank you verra much), and am adding this to my "the movie is better" shelf. Not that the book isn't good; it's just that the movie streamlines the story and gets rid of everything I complained about earlier in this review. In the movie, all the minor characters and business-drama babble has been eliminated, Erika and Mikael's weird three-way relationship is thankfully unmentioned, Mikael never boffs Cecilia Vanger, and Noomi Rapace is so fucking cool as Lisbeth I can't even handle it. I'm also pretty sure they took some stuff from The Girl Who Played With Fire and put it in the movie, because there's some stuff about Lisbeth's past that I don't remember from the book.

UPDATE UPDATE: Having now seen the American remake, and re-watched the Swedish version, I have come to a following decision. While the American version is, in a technical sense, a better movie (Fincher is a much better director - for just one example, the scene where Henrik Vanger explains the circumstances of Harriet's disappearance is a masterful example of show-don't-tell), I dislike the changes they made to the ending, and I simply cannot accept Rooney Mara as Lisbeth. Although I'm proud of Fincher & Co. for making her look and act as weird as the character should, something about her portrayal still wasn't right. If you're interested, this article explains pretty much every complaint I have about American Lisbeth.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 51) (51 new)


Moira Russell I want to read this so much!


Sarah Null I put off reading this for so long because I didn't know how good it could be if it was $11 at Target, and because it's a book I've seen sold in airport newsstands. But I did end up reading it for book club, and I enjoyed it very much.


Moira Russell Sarah wrote: "I put off reading this for so long because I didn't know how good it could be if it was $11 at Target, and because it's a book I've seen sold in airport newsstands. But I did end up reading it for ..."

Interestingly, it's so popular the US publisher is holding off on releasing the 3rd (and last, because the author dropped dead) book so people are paying $40+ for the London import at mystery specialty bookstores. Or maybe ordering from amazon.co.uk. I bet the ebook'll be pirated a lot....



message 4: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny Hey! I wanted to know exactly what Lisbeth ate for every meal (I was worried she was only ever going to eat Billys Pan Pizza). Similar remarks apply to her wardrobe. The chick's Aspergers, you know? Let's show a little tolerance about obsessive behavior, please.



Madeline Don't get me wrong, I kept a chart next to me when I was reading this so I could mark whenever Mikael ate lamb chops for dinner (twice, once in cream sauce and once in red wine) or Lisbeth wore her leather jacket (almost always). It was also really important that we know she was wearing tights with red and green horizontal stripes for one scene in the book.


message 6: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny Ah, you were just teasing me then. I'll relax.

It was also really important that we know she was wearing tights with red and green horizontal stripes for one scene in the book.

Indeed! The Pippi Longstocking theme!



Moira Russell Heh, I picked that same quote in my (rather wild-ass) review....I thought the book was Deeply Flawed but Lisbeth was so awesome she cancelled a lot of the flaws out. I cut Stieg some slack because apparently he died right after delivering the third book and before the first one went to press, I think, so maybe he didn't have a chance to revise his work as fully as he might have....the second book was fairly disappointing, but I just got the third one in the mail from the UK and am hoping it revs back some. I'm sad we won't get a ten-book-long sequence with Sally and Kalle Fighting Crime.


Madeline They should become cast members on Law and Order:SVU. How fantastic would that be?!


Moira Russell Madeline wrote: "They should become cast members on Law and Order:SVU. How fantastic would that be?!"

That would be SUPERFANTASTIC. Lisbeth would hack into everyone's computer everywhere and solve crimes vigilante-style, while Mikael would sleep with all the women in the office and feel Bad about it.




Moira Russell Aww, I liked the t-shirts, partly because it's such an Angry Young Girl thing to do -- I think I _had_ some of those t-shirts when I was sixteen. It was interesting because she's older but looks/acts younger -- I think part of the point is she's been treated like an infant by the state, to the point of declaring her incompetent. A dangerous infant.


Michael I was considering reading this then read Moira's post about the author's death so I decided to see how he died. He died before the first book was even published! He never got to experience the success of his books! Never got to read the luke-warm reviews from people like Madeline. Heh heh


Moira Russell Michael wrote: "He died before the first book was even published! He never got to experience the success of his books!"

I really have to wonder what he might've thought about the English translation - according to the translator, who went under a pseud (I think _maybe_ because he was unhappy about what got done to his work, but he still gets lots of nice royalties) Larsson knew a lot about crime fiction and there were Americanisms and even US slang. The publishers made it sound a lot more formal and British, IIRC (will never get over 'anon').


Madeline He never got to experience the success of his books! Never got to read the luke-warm reviews from people like Madeline.

All authors should be so lucky to die before having to read a Madeline Review.

Well, not all. Just the sucky ones.


Moira Russell Madeline wrote: "All authors should be so lucky to die before having to read a Madeline Review."

Like how people used to say their books had been Harriet'd. "Dude! You've been MADELINED!"


Margali I read your review before I read the book, and just now re-read it so I can say I agree with...everything you said. Are you going to read and review the second one?


Madeline Honestly, I really have no desire to read the next couple of books in the series. I've looked at the reviews for The Girl Who Played With Fire and it sounds like, aside from some new information about Lisbeth's past, the book is mostly the same stuff as the first. I might decide to read it someday, but right now it's not a priority.

(sorry it took so long to reply to your question, by the way - Goodreads forgot to inform me that someone had commented)


Sarah Null Actually, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest are both centered entirely on Lisbeth and her past and her badassery. If you like Lisbeth, you might like the other two books. Although, be warned: we still know what kind of phone everyone is speaking on, what kind of car they are driving, what street they are driving down, and what they ate for breakfast.


Jennifer Thanks for the added movie review. I was debating on renting it. I had similar feelings of this book, but the movie sounds great.


Madeline I'd recommend it. It keeps the creepy, cold atmosphere of the book but gets rid of all the extra stuff that detracts from the central story.


Marina I loved the way you used the quote from the book to summarise your review. Dead on!

---
To sum up, I'm going to give the last word to the book itself, and quote a sentence that's actually a character talking about a book featured towards the end of the story - but it could easily describe Larsson's book:
"It was uneven stylistically, and in places the writing was actually rather poor - there had been no time for any fine polishing - but the book was animated by a fury that no reader could help but notice."

---


Jillian Fantastic review, as always. I had no idea this was made into a movie! Now I need to look it up. My mom dumped these books on me so I felt compelled to read them. She's not a reader, so if she finishes something, I assume it's great. lol....


message 22: by Deno (new) - added it

Deno Uhm, did you at least watch the American remake? I personally think it's better than the Swedish version.


Madeline I have seen the remake, actually. Although I liked some of the changes they made (very very proud of Fincher & Co. for resisting the Hollywood need to sexualize their female lead), there were some other things that happened that I really didn't like. I still prefer the Swedish version.


Saleem Khashan the story and life of the author amazes me, he writes three books and dies, that is the stuff fiction is made of


Lezlee Hays I have to say that I felt similarly to you regarding this book (though I did give it 4 stars in the end). However, I just got around to reading the sequel nearly 2 years after reading this one and I have to say that in terms of interesting plot, it is much better than the 1st. Lisbeth becomes much more interesting, and the author seems to get into a better rhythm with his writing. I still have a few minor complaints, but they are so minor I gave it 5 stars anyway. Just a thought.


message 26: by De (new) - rated it 4 stars

De Thank you for the link to the review of the actresses. I'm not sure I want to see the american film. I haven't gone back to the 2nd and 3rd books, but may someday. Too many books I want to read. I much prefer Arnaldur Indrioason's Reykjavik Thrillers


message 27: by Natalie (new)

Natalie I've been debating on whether or not to read it before I see the film/read it at all...


message 28: by Anna (new)

Anna I love your review, this actually made me want to read the book in a way because it warned me of the bad stuff.


Falak Ibrahim Hey Madeline, this is probably the best (honest) review I've come across in quite some time.. There are expectations which we set up before starting with a book, but eventually get a bit sad when those expectations aren't met. And this doesn't always mean that the book is a bad piece..


Auston a review by a bad reader.


Madeline And a hearty ppppbbbttthhhh to you too, sir!


Elizabeth Aloe I agree with your review! The endless details Of computers and such. Bored me to tears....and I almost didnt finish. This book made me wonder if Larssen was just a pervert who needed to release by writing this stuff. The rape, the way Lisbeth is described, the ending...where did this come from? Anyhow, thanks for the review...it was right on.


Madeline I don't think Larsson was a pervert at all (for examples of a pervert who acted out his twisted fantasies through fiction, see American Psycho), but rather that he knew so much about this largely ignored issue that he really wanted to shock people into caring. That's the main reason I like the Dragon Tattoo series, despite its many flaws - like I said in the review, it's "animated by a fury that no reader could help but notice." It's like Larsson is saying, "oh, this scene makes you uncomfortable? Well it happens every single day to hundreds of women, and that is not okay."


message 34: by Linda (new)

Linda Larsson was trying to achieve a better society, working for gender equality. As a journalist he even started a new politic magazine, and focused on these things. He wanted to open people's eyes, as you mentioned. That's why I love these books, as well.


message 35: by Simon (last edited Jun 29, 2012 12:50AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Simon I generally agree with your criticisms of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", since I thought it had all the ingredients for a good book of this type but they never really came together properly. It's good to hear that the movie apparently fixed most of those issues with the narrative structure, then.

That reminds me, have you ever seen the South Korean movie "Lady Vengeance"? It deals with many of the same themes as "Dragon Tattoo", though in a somewhat different way in addition to being one hell of a movie in general. Probably one of the most interesting movies about vigilante justice I've ever seen.


Saleem Khashan I hate to say this but the movie was awesome


Robyn I 100% agree with your review. I'm quite glad I didn't read anybody else's reviews before writing my own, since I've basically just regurgitated every one of your points, only less eloquently!!


Cristina De leon I couldn't agree with your review more!!!


Betsy Good review, especially using his review of Mikael's book as a review of Stieg's book - ha! And seriously, is this guy the master of going to bed with every woman he comes in contact with, or what? Such a cliche - the aging journalist sweeping every woman of every age off of her feet (except his wife, of course, who saw right through him and left). All in all, the book was entertaining and a good read while traveling. I was also bored to tears with the unnecessary descriptions of computer brands and Lisbeth's clothing.


Madeline You really should see the Swedish version too (with subtitles, of course). The US version was good, but the Swedish actress who plays Lisbeth just blows Rooney Mara right out of the water.


Callum I agree with your review on so many points- and the quote from Mikel's book is really quite apt for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, good catch.


message 42: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim Great review Madeline. I feel like a moron now for not seeing its faults. Guess I was blinded and seduced by the fury, living as I do in the country with the highest rape statistics in the world...


Grainne Great review! I had the same problems with the book. It got too bogged down in the business bit and I just wanted to flick ahead. And the obsession with what Lisbeth had in her sandwiches seemed odd!


Madeline The problem was that Stieg Larsson died rather suddenly, either right before or after the first book was published, so the entire series isn't as polished as it should have been. Apparently he intended for the series to be ten volumes long, but we only have the notes for the last few books rather than entire (unedited, filled with pointless details) drafts.


Grainne Oh! I read that he died suddenly but didn't know the series was meant to be that long. You know, that would actually explain some of the pointless bits. A good editor could have pruned a lot of it and improved the book really. Will still probably read the other two...but wasn't as wowed as I expected. The Swedish version of the movie is on Netflix. For once I might actually enjoy watching the moview after the book!


message 46: by Jem (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jem I preferred the third book to either of the first two.


Grainne I'm kind of saving the third one. I've gotten to like the characters-don't want the series to end!


Bonnie Your review was a much better read than the book! Maybe you should be writing...


Kumari I think we are just more discriminating because we've experienced lot of really wonderful literature, so very literally in comparison this is totally 'meh' or even 'blech.' people who aren't as acquainted might think this is Shakespeare and Shakespeare was shit. What do they know?

I love the premise the author chose to write about, I liked Lisbeth as a charcter with interesting and odd quirks but this book was boring as hell! I really tried, but after it put me to sleep for the 7th or 8th time, I fell back on the other knowledge that we voracious readers have: there are so many much, much, much better books to spend time with than this.

@Manny: haha to your first comment.


Madeline Shakespeare was shit.

I'm sorry, I stopped reading after that part. What?


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