jill's Reviews > The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
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's review
Apr 16, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: translation, mystery, quirky-family
Read in April, 2010

** spoiler alert ** This was a surprisingly fast read for a 644 page book, although I suppose that impression owes a bit to the fact that the last couple books I read were rather slow accounts of various figures in the Russian Revolution. I expect if I were well into a murder mystery phase, I wouldn't have found the ease with which I got through this one so notable.

It did slow down once the Vanger mystery was resolved. The last hundred or so pages on the expose of the financier kind of dragged, though that may have just been a little fatigue with the length of the book as a whole, rather than a reflection on that particular plot line.

This book made me uncomfortable, particularly with its treatment of violence against women. I'm fine with murder mysteries as entertainment, but books that delve into descriptions of rape and torture are more problematic for me as a reader. It's not that I think Larsson was unserious about the issues involved; it's just hard for me not to feel like rape scenes are meant in some way to titillate as well as horrify. It doesn't help that one of the quotes on the cover calls this a "sexy, addictive thriller." Sure, there's plenty of consensual sex in this novel, but that sex is mostly elided -- people kiss and then lay naked in bed in the afterglow. It reminded me of Kiss the Girls, the book that convinced me I'm never reading another James Patterson novel; I viscerally dislike violent rape scenes (or violent torture scenes in general for that matter), so if I'm going to get through them the rest of the book has to be better than "generic thriller" for it to be worth it to me.

I will probably give the second book in this trilogy a chance, even though it's clearly going to be more in the vein of uncomfortable rape scenes. The main female character's backstory is clearly going to involve some trauma, even if the next mystery is on a different subject.

The lead female character also bothered me. The woman is a bit too "edgy" for my taste; she's kind of a dark, troubled version of the manic pixie dream girl. She is repeatedly described as being "anorexically thin," which bothers me -- anorexia is a specific disorder which this character emphatically does not have, not a general description of thinness. The girl who looks like a victim but is actually totally kick-ass, the wounded girl who is tough to overcompensate, the girl everyone either wants to victimize or protect etc. Again, I'm willing to see where Larsson goes with her, but I'm not buying into this character yet. And I really, really wish they hadn't gone the love interest route with the leads. This woman is described as having very few close emotional bonds, but somehow this guy twice her age is her soulmate and they just immediately click. How convenient. I just think it would be more interesting to not go the obvious sexual way with their bond.

Larsson has other reasonably important female characters, which is a plus; the lead would be more annoying if she were also a token. I liked that the Vanger women had a range of reactions and coping mechanisms to their horrible, horrible family, and I liked the relationship between Blomkvist and Erika Berger.

I did find this an enjoyable read, and I don't want to hold it to unreasonable standards. It's just a thriller, after all. But misogyny is clearly a central theme of this series, so I can't imagine a reaction that wouldn't touch on these issues. Again, I'll be interested to see where the series goes.

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