Moira Russell's Reviews > The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
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Jan 03, 2010

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bookshelves: 2010-50-new-books-challenge
Read in January, 2010

** spoiler alert ** Notes made while reading (scroll down for slightly more coherent review):

//also jumps on bandwagon, despite reservations about translation, because I need something lighter to read while migraines are kicking my ass

***

Amazon.co.uk items (Sold by Amazon EU S.a.r.L.):
1 The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest £9.49
Shipped via Deutsche Post DHL

AWW YEAH. Yes, I am less than 100 pages into this novel and I already made sure I ordered the last book from the UK. Because after 39 years alas I know myself.

***

Me reading the book so far: '....financial intrigue journalism Blomkvist yeah yeah....LISBETH! LISBETH! LOOOOVE....swindling setup elderly family retainer yeah yeah....' Picturing Michael Nyqvist does help. Yum. Think I am actually looking forward more to the second book -- the Complete Review complained Lisbeth is 'front and center' in that book and I was like 'DUDE THAT'S LIKE BITCHING THAT THE PONY YOU GOT FOR CHRISTMAS JUST POOPED ON THE LIVING ROOM RUG.' (What bad girl thing? I do not have a bad girl thing.)

-- Also, based on the Nordic-type people I know, I bet this little excerpt is a good example of the author's humour buried under the clunk-ass translation: 'That morning he had also had an invitation to celebrate Christmas Eve with the Beckmans in Saltsjöbaden [Moi is ignorant of city's location and also cannot spell it:]. He said no, but thank you, certain that there was a limit to Beckman's indulgence and quite sure that he had no ambition to find out what that limit might be.' (Erika Berger/Beckman and Blomkvist have been lovers for twenty years.) [Ah, apparently Saltsjöbaden is a resort on the Baltic Sea. My, it looks fancy. No, I am not defensive about being an Ugly American.*:]


*Yes, I've read that book and know that phrase actually means the opposite of what people think, but sadly the misconception has long since passed into popular use. Pretty good book, tho.

***

(Very) slightly more coherent review:

Finished this last night (reading way too fast as usual) and while it's a lot more conventional than I thought it was going in (family saga! isolated island! locked-room mystery!** Nazi past!) I of course loved LISBETH, and am pining for the sequel to freakin' show up in my mailbox already so I can devour it. I should write up a more formal review -- these are basically notes I made as I went along.

I liked it a lot! (duh OBVIOUSLY) Many of the Swedish cultural and historical references totally baffled me -- footnotes would've been nice, or even just an appendix explaining some references. "Reg" the translator apparently hand-drew a very nice map, which Vintage didn't include (WTF) so I had to print it out and stick it into my own copy. The style was weirdly clipped -- not a lot of time spent on description of places or people -- while tiresomely prolix in other places (did we REALLY need all those emails near the end?). I think the book could've been trimmed by 200 pp or so easily, but at the same time I enjoyed reading something more discursive with a lot of setup that wasn't slavishly following the 'HOOK your reader within TWO PARAGRAPHS by their EYEBALLS!!!111' ubiquitous writing "advice" everywhere nowadays. I'd love to read it in the original sometime, sigh. It was mainly a good fast ride, at least on the surface, altho parts of it still oddly stick in my mind:

The book is very much about systemic evil -- the structure of capitalism itself; the historic references to genocide; the way Salander is at the mercy of her guardians, misunderstood and underestimated and abused by courts and clinics and foster families. Sweden, the cliche of the socialist 'nanny state,' is actually dark and dangerous as the fairy-tale forests. Lots of reviewers complained that the framing story of Blomkvist taking on financial corruption was pointless but I think it's included for thematic reasons -- not just to set up the plot of why he would take the detective/researching job, but as an illustration of how things work. This is a novel by an investigative journalist supposedly about how heroic investigative journalism brings down powerful rich criminal organizations which corrupt the system, only he can't do it: Lisbeth is outside the social structures, so she breaks the law and brings the swindler to justice, like an avenging angel. It's the same way she deals with her guardian/abuser, and the murderer. She's the only one who can enact justice because she's outside society and the law, as a rejected, isolated, discarded misfit. She's a self-made Fury.

The murderer himself is set firmly within the patriarchal capitalist system as both the CEO of a huge corporation and scion of a completely fucked-up family -- that he's _also_ taught to be a serial killer by his father in abusing his sister is icing on the psychocake. Can I just say how happy I am not to see yet another genius Bach-happy overly cultured pretentious serial killer? (looking at YOU, Hannibal) altho I think this one was still fairly unrealistic given the actual psychopathology....but what the hell, it's a novel. Even the Nazis are brought in -- not so much for shock value but to point out that there were political parties in Sweden (and other countries, of course) which supported them and their ideas long after WWII, and even oh-so-charming Henrik (who actually got on my nerves) admits he succumbed to the lure of the propaganda. No one is innocent.

Critics say the book is about how awful men are, or how all the men in the book suck except Blomkvist, which isn't true: Henrik clearly loves Harriet and Erika's husband, while offstage, seems like a good man; Blomkvist himself objectifies women somewhat by sleeping around and the bit at the end about how he judges himself as a bad father (paralleling Gottfried as the ultimate bad parent and Henrik as the good foster-father) is really touching. The hacker Plague and Salander's first guardian also obviously care for and help her. It's about the system, and how systematized socialized misogyny warps everyone trapped within it. I liked how the women wind up in charge at the end -- Erika runs the magazine, Harriet is now restored as the rightful CEO, and of course Salander has all that money. Maybe they'll be able to make some changes.

This makes the book sound terribly dry and dull, like a thesis, which of course it isn't. I really liked the absolutely cold, isolated atmosphere Blomkvist is stuck in -- it was described without a lot of fuss but built up very strikingly over pages and pages. I enjoyed the old-fashioned detective work involving the photographs, making a mini-film of Harriet, trying to see what she saw, hunting down the other photographers....(I could practically see that sequence as I was reading it, I bet it'd make a great interlude in the film.) But of course, the main reason I picked the novel up and why I personally think everyone is raving about it is LISBETH, LISBETH, LISBETH. I adored her. She's like the brutal fucked-up 'perfect victim' of the system gone through hell and back to take her revenge as a fallen angel -- and yet she's a real person with too many noserings who never cleans her apartment and binges on pizza. I loved that she was a hacker and had terrible social skills and made people think she was mentally slow and couldn't trust anyone. She's truly vibrant. I loved how flawed she was, too: how she had no sympathy for Martin being abused himself, how she walks away from Blomkvist at the end, the fantastic trap she set for her guardian rather than relying on anybody else. Why would she?

If it hadn't been for her I would never have finished this book (well, I probably wouldn't have picked it up at all, but enough people said 'YOU WILL LOVE HER' and they were right). It's way too long -- so much time is spent on trivial little details it was far too easy to skim; I actually hate family sagas; I didn't find a lot of the other characters compelling (I did love Erika -- and Cecilia -- and Isabella was terribly chilling even tho we didn't see much of her); the resolution of both mysteries actually felt somewhat anti-climactic; I prefer novels with more visual detail -- and so on and on. None of it matters, because there is LISBETH. Of course I also loved the Lisbeth/Mikael show and no doubt if I were in fandom I would 'ship' them and write terrible fanfic about it. I'll settle for devouring the next two books instead.


**Despite Blomkvist snapping at the end "Because this isn't some damned locked-room mystery novel," which cracked me up.
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Quotes Moira Liked

Stieg Larsson
“We need to have a talk on the subject of what's yours and what's mine.”
Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson
“I’ve had many enemies over the years. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never engage in a fight you’re sure to lose. On the other hand, never let anyone who has insulted you get away with it. Bide your time and strike back when you’re in a position of strength—even if you no longer need to strike back.”
Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson
“Normally seven minutes of another person's company was enough to give her a headache so she set things up to live as a recluse. She was perfectly content as long as people left her in peace. Unfortunately society was not very smart or understanding.”
Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Reading Progress

01/04/2010 page 16
2.43% "'They had their first quarrel, then others, and anon the antagonism turned personal.' '....Anon'? What's next, 'anent'?"
01/04/2010 page 21
3.19% "omg where is Lisbeth"
01/04/2010 page 22
3.34% "OMFG Agency for Industrial Assistance? Bank fraud? What? Where is the GORE?"
01/04/2010 page 36
5.47% "LISBETH! //has little cartoon hearts for eyes"
01/04/2010 page 48
7.29% "LISBETH WEARS DOCS AND STRIPEY SOCKS. <3333333333"
01/04/2010 page 73
11.09% "I am missing every.single. Swedish cultural reference so far. No, I got 'IKEA' on p. 59. This makes me feel an uncultured lout."
01/04/2010 page 79
12.01% "Blomkvist bugs the conversation! //approves"
01/04/2010 page 84
12.77% ""Shorten and simplify it. Twenty-nine minutes." Okay, I also <3 Blomkvist."
01/04/2010 page 95
14.44% "Island version of a locked room mystery! Dorothy Sayers! That makes up for the sprawling family saga shit. I hate family sagas."
01/04/2010 page 100
15.2% "MAPS YES THANK YOU. http://www.sallysfriends.net/nest/the..."
01/04/2010 page 111
16.87% "Blomkvist, you're so not getting on that train, sweetie-pie. WE HAVE FOUR HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE PAGES TO GO."
01/04/2010 page 164
24.92% "omg tracing the family tree from the SIXTEENTH century on //wilts like Lisbeth's plant"
01/04/2010 page 172
26.14% "family tree with FORTY PEOPLE AUUGH"
01/04/2010 page 173
26.29% "'He filed it in the "INTELLIGENT CRITICISM" folder.' ahahahaha."
01/04/2010 page 174
26.44% "wtf is the 'Winter War' //toddles off to Wikipedia yet again //is clueless Yank"
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Moira (last edited Jan 05, 2010 05:02PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Moira Russell Adding this here because that's way too long as it is and oh my God did I really just babble away like that? -- There's a passage which could almost apply to the book itself, near the end:
Berger thought the book was the best thing Blomkvist had ever written. 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.



Manny I love this review! You have captured the spirit of the book. Will let you know as soon as the movie is out with English subtitles.


Moira Russell Manny wrote: "I love this review! You have captured the spirit of the book. Will let you know as soon as the movie is out with English subtitles."

Aww, thank you! High praise, since you read it in the original.

I keep editing the review to try to weed out the various free-range colons (wtf) but it just keeps reposting the rating, so, whatever. I am DYING to see that movie. Noomi was PERFECT.

[image error]

I just got volume 3 today from the UK! I'm a little sad to start reading it, because then no more Lisbeth. sigh. I had actually missed her and sort of languished for however long it took them to ship me the book.




Moira Russell God, this is fucking lulzy. I should rewrite it.


message 5: by Sparrow (last edited Jun 23, 2012 09:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sparrow I really like what you say here about Henrik and Erika's husbands. I was thinking, too, that Henrik is a good example of someone who just cared about the women he knew.

I also keep feeling bad for ragging on Blomkvist and comparing his self-absorption to ritual killing because I actually really really liked him. He reminded me of a lot of my favorite guys - not in the silly rico suave way he comes off sometimes, but in just trying to be kind and missing the mark a lot of the time. I like how both Blomkvist and Salander are just sort of fucked up in their own ways, but still trying to grow as people.

But, I do think the book makes the comparison, like you're saying about the hatred of women being systemic, and I do agree with the book comparing them. I just still liked Blomkvist. Not raping people goes a long way with me, I guess.


Moira Russell Sparrow wrote: "I really like what you say here about Henrik and Erika's husbands. I was thinking, too, that Henrik is a good example of someone who just cared about the women he knew.

Yeah, they're in the background, but they're there -- and hell, Henrik is what kicks off the plot (I really like Henrik). Harriet sending him the flowers to let him know she's alive, and him thinking the killer is taunting him, is actually a really nice literary detail I like (altho it chimes eerily with the cabinet of trophies, yaaargh).

He reminded me of a lot of my favorite guys - not in the silly rico suave way he comes off sometimes, but in just trying to be kind and missing the mark a lot of the time

Yes! I think that's a good observation - I don't think he's actually meant to be a Gary Stu, despite the obvs similarities and the way all the women fall for him, heh. And he knows he fucked up with his daughter, and in some way with Salander too.

Not raping people goes a long way with me, I guess. "

IT DOES. Which says a lot about our culture, doesn't it!


Sparrow haha! Yes! I ask so little!

I think showing Blomkvist like that makes him more identifiable as a protagonist. Like, Larsson attempting to strike a middle ground between the ideal non-woman-hating man and the serial killer.

Yeah, I don't really think it's bad that they're in the background, either, because the book isn't really about men liking women. But, having them there makes it obviously a choice on the others' parts to hate women.


Moira Russell Sparrow wrote: "Like, Larsson attempting to strike a middle ground between the ideal non-woman-hating man and the serial killer.

Yeah, I don't really think it's bad that they're in the background, either, because the book isn't really about men liking women. But, having them there makes it obviously a choice on the others' parts to hate women. "


Yes, EXACTLY. It annoyed me when people said either "Oh the book is full of shitty men" or "Blomkvist is just a Gary Stu," because yeah, it's not Tolstoy, but the book isn't that cruddy, either.

I also really liked Erika - she's not the major character, but she's strong and independent and IIRC helps Salander later. The actress in the Swedish miniseries who portrayed her was really good.


Moira Russell Sparrow wrote: "Not raping people goes a long way with me, I guess. "

You know those sarcastic "feminism cookies"? We need a "Not a Rapist!" cookie.

....oh my God there already is one. HAH.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22789525...


Sparrow Agreed. I also think the part where Erika hugs Salander is totally golden. That could have easily gone the cat-fight route if Larsson had been obsessed with Blomkvist's sexual allure. It seemed like he really had a handle on his own perspective.

I have to say I can see how people, especially women, are reacting like that from a pure enjoyment level. The Gary Stu thing I'm on the fence about. Because, on the one hand, there are those moments where it's like, oy, geez, another girl's panties just caught fire in front of you? But, on the other hand that seems like a trope of detective stories and the only thing that would make him a Gary Stu is really just that he's not raping them and they're not idiots. So, that is troubling about the Gary Stu complaint. I don't feel like his general, non-sexual, abilities are particularly striking or convenient.

On the "book is full of shitty men" complaint, that one seems a little more legit to me. Like, I could really see how a lot of the things happening in this book would be serious triggers for a lot of women. And, while I think it is useful and I am really glad it exists, I could see how that would not be worth it for a lot of people and how it could be really hard to look past personal triggers about male hatred to appreciate the book.


Sparrow Moira wrote: "Sparrow wrote: "Not raping people goes a long way with me, I guess. "

You know those sarcastic "feminism cookies"? We need a "Not a Rapist!" cookie.

....oh my God there already is one. HAH.

http..."


OH MY GOD! THAT IS AMAZING!


Moira Russell Sparrow wrote: "OH MY GOD! THAT IS AMAZING! "

I KNOW, RIGHT


Moira Russell Sparrow wrote: "Agreed. I also think the part where Erika hugs Salander is totally golden

It gets even better in the later books, yeah (not spoiling).

on the one hand, there are those moments where it's like, oy, geez, another girl's panties just caught fire in front of you?

//SNORT

But, on the other hand that seems like a trope of detective stories and the only thing that would make him a Gary Stu is really just that he's not raping them and they're not idiots.

Oh, yeah, I actually hadn't thought about that - Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, &c....they all wind up fucking the women in the cases and flirting with every other attractive female, yeah. And you're right, Blomkvist does seem sort of schlubby otherwise: smart, but not a superhero (he doesn't rise from the dead or anything, HAH).

On the "book is full of shitty men" complaint, that one seems a little more legit to me"

Yeah, I think there's a line between "this is a fucked-up patriarchal society" and "the book is full of shitty men," and it's sometimes hard to differentiate - I think the Colour Purple came in for that kind of criticism, long ago, when Walker was up front about domestic violence and then got accused of not being able to write good male characters and in fact of perpetuating racist stereotypes about black men, &c &c. Everyone's collusive in the fucked-up society they're part of, even gentle Henrik. Power relations in that kind of setting are pretty black-and-white: there's the privileged, and the fucked. I think it's to Larsson's credit he actually does have some good men and good relationships in his book.

(Altho there is the question of how much you can subvert a pulpy genre by writing in it - this is again like Chandler - and how much you buy into its premises, and if Larsson's doing the C.S.I. thing of reveling in the gore and rape while pretending to condemn it - I actually didn't think he was. But I know plenty of other female readers who think he did, so it's maybe open how successful he was there.)


Sparrow Yeah, I definitely didn't think he exploiting the violence either. I thought the graphic nature of the violence was really important, but like I was saying before, I think if it had been directed to women, it would not have been necessary to include the violence at all. But, I think it is WAY different to factually describe what happens in a violent scene, as I think Larsson does, than to sex it up the way CSI does. And that distinction really matters to me, and I think I am pretty sensitive to when the latter is happening. Having said that, though, I have not been raped or beaten by a man, and I could see how for some people in a certain stage of dealing with that type of experience, reading about that at all would seem exploitative. Or, even how people who haven't experienced it, but are at a certain stage of dealing with the idea of violence in society at all would feel it is never worth describing it. Like, that describing it is always somehow contributing to it.

I do not feel that way, however, and I think it is important to talk about violence in order to show it as what it is. I think if these things are unspeakable, they can easily become seductive.

That's so funny you mention the Color Purple! I was thinking about it when we were talking about alternative titles for this book. I think the two are really similar! But, the Color Purple to inspire women to get out of violent situations and this book to inspire men to stand up to hatred of women. Both really cool and important.

And, yeah, the writing in this isn't poetry, but if I can set aside my writing preferences for Twilight I can sure as hell set them aside for this.


message 15: by Miriam (new)

Miriam You know what would make those cookies even more awesome? Food-coloring.


Sparrow Miriam wrote: "You know what would make those cookies even more awesome? Food-coloring."

Rule of thumb.


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