Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

Review : The girl with the dragon tattoo

Written By: amodini - Apr• 01•09

dragon“The girl with the dragon tattoo” has been high on the best-seller lists, and I am not quite sure why. The book was written by Stieg Larsson, a Swedish journalist. Larsson died in 2004. The book was published in 2005, and in English, is a translation of the original.

The 2 pronged premise is intriguing enough. The first thread is about Mikael “Kalle” Blomkvist, a financial journalist, who is sued by a corrupt industrialist Wennerstrom who’m he has attempted to expose. Blomkvist loses the case, and his life and career hang in the balance. The second story involves Henrik Vanger , another influential industrialist, who is investigating the disappearance of his 16 year old niece Harriet. Harriet disappeared nearly 40 years ago, but Henrik has never given up on the search. What has further fuelled his search is the fact that he receives a pressed flower every year on his birthday, something that Harriet used to gift him. And if Harriet is dead, who is reminding him of her every year ?

Henrik hires Blomkvist, who to all appearances is taking a break to recuperate from the recent blow to his career and reputation, to investigate Harriet’s disappearance. Initially unwilling, Blomkvist agrees to the request when Henrik promises him evidence against Wennerstrom, at the end of the agreed year. Henrik lives on an island owned by the wealthy Vanger family, surrounded by his relatives, most of whom he detests. Blomqvist moves to the island on the pretext of writing Henrik’s biography, although the Vanger clan is not fooled. And then he along with Lisbeth Salander, a social rebel and astute investigator, forage around for clues to a long cold case.

While the core Vanger clan investigation was interesting to follow, and the novel did pick up speed when the author was delineating this part, most of the book reads like a not-too-adept translation. I found the structure jerky, with the essential fluidity of a mystery novel missing. Larsson is given to providing details of unimportant objects and events, like describing details of the computer/camera that Salander is using or the size of the room that Henrik uses as his office. It would have sufficed to use relative adjectives like “large” or “cutting edge” rather than describe products by brand name – that is a little weird and distracting.

The characters in the book didn’t seem real enough, because although they did things we never got to know why they did them, or what they thought. The action described in third person seems detached, and makes it hard to sympathize with the main protagonists. Also, and I seem to harp about this, a lot of things appeared to be “lost in translation”. Take Blomkvist’s casual attitude to his relationships – he is apparently in one with a married woman (who’s husband is OK with her affair-on-the-side) , but has no qualms with falling into bed with other women – now is that just him, or is it a Swedish thing ? We never know.

Note that I’m not objecting to his “morality”, I’m just asking for a better understanding of his character. If he is such a good guy (and he is) why is he such a good guy ? And if he is such a charming guy that women are simply hopping into his bed (almost) unasked, can we have a better description of him, other than the title of the book he is reading ? Blomkvist was very “active” in the story, but seemed “passive“. His actions were described with detachment, and seemed remote, and I never got a whiff of the passionate murder mystery the reviews had promised.

Salander is the girl in the title. Why I have no idea, because she is not the main character here – Blomkvist is. She has numerous tattoos (besides the dragon one), is almost an orphan (her mother is an asylum of some sort), and has some serious issues with fitting into “normal” society. She is thus a ward of the state, and is required to report to a state-appointed guardian. At 24, she is an accomplished computer hacker, and is at home with numerous state-of-the-art “snooping” gadgets.

The original Swedish book was named “Men who hate women” which probably suited it better, given the whole violence theme in the book. Misogynists abound in the story, and there are graphic descriptions of sexual and other violence in the book. Each chapter is prefaced with statistics on abuse against women.

I dragged my feet on this book, very painfully getting to the end. The stilted style, and the fact that the book continues on for about a hundred pages, after the climax, to a pretty lame ending, put me off. On the whole, I found the book cliché-ridden and badly edited (I would have lopped off a whole lot of useless exposition), and left me thinking that the actions in the book need to be grounded in more context.

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  1. Dear fellow Stieg Larsson fan,

    We’re trying something new for the launch of the second book in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.
    Run your own Stieg Larsson contest on your blog—for which we will provide the prizes (a free copy of The Girl Who Played with Fire, cool temporary dragon tattoos). The first thirty (30) entrants will get first dibs of the translated manuscript of book three. Below you’ll find the complete rules and regulations.

    Click here for contest entry

    Visit the Stieg Larsson site for more info

    Friend Lisbeth on Facebook

    Follow us on Twitter

    The first 250 bloggers to enter their information (name, blog name, blog URL mailing address, and daytime phone number) will obtain the giveaway material (one (1) copy of The Girl who Played with Fire and a batch of temporary tattoos) to host a sweepstakes on their blog. The first 30 bloggers to enter will also receive (1) copy of the manuscript of the third Stieg Larsson thriller at the time of its in-house release. All applications to participate will have to be received by 11:59 pm (Eastern Daylight Time) on August 15, 2009. U.S. Residents only. Bloggers are solely responsible for the administration of the sweepstakes on their blogs.

    The A.A. Knopf Marketing Team

  2. […] is well portrayed by Nyquist, known for his role as Mikael Blomquist in the Swedish original of the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” […]

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