BOOK REVIEW: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Big in Sweden: Americans might find it hard to enjoy a novel about men who hate women

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By Stieg Larsson. Translated by Reg Keeland
Alfred K. Knopf, 480 pages, $25

In 2004, Swedish journalist and author Stieg Larsson died in his 50s of a heart attack, leaving behind three unpublished thrillers that were immediately pounced on, the first being The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I suppose this a good idea. I mean, it worked for John Kennedy Toole. And apparently everyone in Europe loves it. But this isn’t A Confederacy of Dunces.

This is easily one of the worst books I’ve ever read.

And bear in mind that I’ve read John Grisham.

I’ve read the Sweet Valley Middle School, High School, and University books.

I know my bad literature.

The novel begins by introducing you to Mikael Blomkvist, a Swedish financial journalist and co-founder of Millenium, a self-righteous magazine known for its investigative reporting. Blomkvist is famous; he’s successful. He’s a ladykiller, managing to literally charm the pants off of a number of women, whether they may be married, sexually prudish, or even lesbian.

They all want him. Let’s just hope he doesn’t have a venereal disease.

But our Casanova is going to jail for libel. He wrote and published an article making accusations that industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström doesn’t do things completely legal all the time. Apparently, poor Blomkvist was duped and now he’s going to have to pay for it.

However, Blomkvist is not the only star of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The real heroine (supposedly) of the novel — the girl with the dragon tattoo — is Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth is basically a sociopath, having no emotions and no attachments to other human beings. She also wears leather and t-shirts with threatening slogans and has facial piercings and drives a motorcycle.

So naturally she’s a total psycho.

But Lisbeth would rather hack computers, working as a private investigator, than hack up other people.

It takes Larsson more than 100 pages to finally reveal what is essentially the main plot of the book: Blomkvist is hired by Henrik Vanger, the millionaire CEO of his family’s now struggling corporation, to solve a mystery. Vanger’s beloved niece Harriet went missing in the 1960s and he wants to find out what happened to her before he dies. He assumes someone in his giant, crazy, selfish, and too-complicated-to-keep-up-with family is involved. Blomkvist eventually meets up with Lisbeth and the two work together on the case.

(A tip for the reader: There is a family tree at the beginning of the novel. Learn it. Use it. Live it.)

This story is centered around “men who hate women,” and I’m not so sure if Larsson shouldn’t fall into that category himself. He manages to present two completely revolting scenes in which Lisbeth allows — I’ll repeat, allows — herself to be sexually assaulted not once, but twice.

She doesn’t put up resistance to the first incident (seriously, she doesn’t even say “no”) and then voluntarily walks into the second. While she does manage to get revenge on her attacker, these scenarios have little to do with the rest of the book, except, maybe, to show just how abnormal Lisbeth is and how far she’s willing to go to maintain control. They’re mentioned only once more in later chapters. In afterthought, they feel almost unnecessary.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has no real central climax. The mystery of Harriet is solved. And so is another, even creepier one, the weak pay-off of both taking up maybe a couple dozen pages in this almost 500-page novel.

I think Larsson, may he rest in peace, spent more time loading the book with unnecessary details, like practically every time the main characters dine, including exactly what they eat and where they eat it.

Except neither of the previously mentioned plot lines, which should have been exciting, are what we’re supposed to really be interested in. Nope. The book goes on for almost another hundred pages after all that is wrapped up.

Because, really, it’s about getting revenge on Wennerström. It’s a hit overseas, but I don’t get it.

Maybe I have to be really into finance. Or Swedish.

I’d rather just settle on this being another one of those silly European fads.

Like the metric system.

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