The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Review

Okay, I know, I’m about two years late. But having just finished this book I feel compelled to review it.

I rarely put off reading best-sellers  I have the general opinion that if a book has made it to best-seller status then who am I to disagree with the opinion of millions. But I did with Stieg Larsson’s work. For three reasons. Firstly, I am not a huge fan of crime fiction as a general rule. I tend to find the prose is often laboured and the characters are regularly two dimensional, sacrificed for complex plots that make solving the bloody thing either impossible or so obvious I shut it in chapter two. That’s not to say that crime fiction is written badly, indeed, I would stand that some of the best authors are in that genre, but rather that it is just not to my taste.

Secondly, I despise books that sell on gimmickry. I have not, and refuse point blank, to read, for example, Fifty Shades of Grey. I have no doubt that it is written exceptionally well. Nor do I have a problem with the erotic genre but rather, I take offence to a book that is sold on its sexual content. Rather like a movie that is judged because of its levels of nudity rather than the quality of plot and acting, I truly believe a book should be judged on plot and story-craft  not on how deeply it describes the bedroom sequences. In promotion, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (hereafter TGwtDT) came across as a book that was being sold for its daring to be graphic, gorey and horrific.

Thirdly, I was a student and broke. I had to choose my reading material carefully.

Man have I ever been wrong. I read it from cover to cover in less than two days. The only book I’ve ever read faster is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and that was mostly to avoid spoilers.

TGwtDT starts slowly. And Larsson does like to delve deep into Swedish business, politics and finance to a level that does make a reader feel like they are drowning. His introduction of Wennerström is in depth and complex. And I’ll admit I almost dropped the book right then, but take my advice. Keep going. As the plot kicks in, you are catapulted into a story that never stops, and while you might guess some of the solution, I would highly respect anyone who could guess the complete conclusion. And what’s better, is that having suspicions still doesn’t ruin the ending.

Characters are definitely Larsson’s strong suit. Wow. Now I’m pretty picky when it comes to character representation but his characters just blew me away. Blomkvist can get annoying in places but its easily forgiveable. He is delightfully three dimensional, as opposed to the usual cop cliche you tend to get in crime novels. He is flawed and most importantly, Larsson stays true to him from page one to ‘the end’. And Lisbeth Salander. I won’t say anything too much other than she is an intriguing enigma that is almost as fascinating as the rich plot going on around her. While many might not like her as a person, you have to adore her as a character. Larsson’s secondary cast are also strong. Often you find books where the author has done all the work on the lead characters and just dumped other names around them. Here, this isn’t true. You get completely dragged into the Vanger family and each character is as real and formed as the next.

One thing I would say is keep a pad and paper close. Not to track the plot. Not to keep a record of all the clues but to keep track of names and places. This is a book written by a  Swede set in Sweden. The names are, in places, hysterical in pronunciation and I promise you will spend half your time flicking back and forth trying to remember places. It is part of what creates the rich atmosphere of the book, and Larsson really does bring Sweden to life in front of your eyes, but it can be a bit brain-busting at times.

Larsson has an unusual style of prose. Until you get into its flow it can feel very disjointed. Paragraphs of description almost seem to be thrown in at random. I actually really got on with it very well and I think, again, it is part of what makes his books so special. He is also discriminating with his description. By the end, a reader can describe, in fair detail, the entire of Salander’s wardrobe. I’m not sure I could even tell you what colour hair Blomkvist has. It made it, for me anyway, very much Salander’s story with Blomkvist just a catalyst and a vessel. Also, while he writes in third person, he jumps between Salander and Blomkvist, as well as a few other characters from time to time, during the story. I really enjoyed this as a style. It gave the whole book a feeling of coming together as all the different threads slowly pulled together. Particularly at the end, this style worked exceptionally well in building anticipation and climax.

Different people react differently to the inherent ‘gore’ in this book. My mother, who can watch psycho thrillers at midnight and sleep happily, had nightmares after reading this book and claims that the detail was unnecessary. Me, who can’t watch the torture scene in Casino Royale, never mind a horror movie, had no problems with it. Far from being a gimmick  I actually felt that it added to the whole atmosphere of the book and helped build the tensions towards the final twist and conclusion.

I’ve added a link to the bottom of this review to an article I read recently in the economist about crime fiction in Scandinavia. Larsson was the beginning of what has become a massive flood in the market but I think he will be remembered for a long time. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is crime fiction, of that there can be no denying, but it is also an examination of human interaction and it is for this, over its crime plot, that I praise it. Larsson had the daring to present two unusual and compelling characters and it is only through them that the book truly works. It is a book that leaves you already reaching for the sequel even as you close its cover.

Rating: 9-10 (I only don’t give it ten because in places it does become very heavy with the financial and political stuff and this does slow the story)

Favourite (2) quotes: “She became known as “the girl with two brain cells”—one for breathing and one for standing up.”

“People always have secrets. It’s just a matter of finding out what they are.”

Favourite Character: Lisbeth Salander

Economist Article: Those Bloody Scandinavians