Monday, June 21, 2010

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I've been wanting to read this book for 2 years now, so when my new book club chose it as their first selection, I was happy to have the chance to finally dig in. I'm glad I read it, and I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the books, but I am admittedly perplexed by just why these books are so popular.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was published under the name, Men Who Hate Women in Sweden which should you some indication of the content. This is in many ways a standard mystery novel to me, there's a complex, interesting, and likable investigator (who is actually a reporter in the books as opposed to being a detective), an interesting setting, and a high stakes crime. Mikael Blomkvist has been sentenced to a term in prison for libel--he published something he could not prove. Deciding he needs to take some down time before sorting out his career, he accepts an offer to investigate a cold case for an elderly man who wishes to know what really happened to his niece before he dies.

The case proves intense and complicated and a super savvy but emotionally challenged young woman Lisbeth Salander comes along to help him with his case. (she's the girl with the dragon tattoo)

The book took me a considerable number of pages to get wasn't that it was uninteresting, it was just that there was heavy background and character development to accomplish. Once the mystery really started, though, I found myself enjoying it a lot more. I do still feel it's a tad on the long side...towards the end I was thinking, what? I'm still reading this? But after I finished I almost immediately wanted to start The Girl Who Played with Fire!

It should be noted this book is quite dark and there's considerable brutality towards women described. It's interesting to me that this has brought up some question on what Stieg Larsson's true feelings about women are. He self-identified as a feminist, but one could argue there's a bit of wish fulfillment in his character attracting every woman, and that even the emotionally closed Lisbeth develops strong feelings for him. I often wonder about books and movies that depict such violence towards women. Sometimes I wonder if they do more harm than good. I know there were organizations that work against sex-trafficking for example, that had major problems with the film Trade, because they felt that the violence would fuel fantasies for some. Having said all of this, I should note that I've read some crime fiction and romantic suspense in my day I don't think that this book particularly stands out for the brutality depicted. Yes it's there and if you have a problem with any violence you are going to have a problem with it in this book, but it's not necessarily worse than any other similar dark crime novel I've raed.

One thing that did stand out for me was just casual everyone was sexually. I don't know if this is because it's a European book and the Swedish attitude towards sex is much more openly casual, but Blomkvist's relationship to his business partner, Berger, and actually all his relationships with women in the book I found rather depressing.

One little aspect I loved is how Blomkvist would often read at the end of the day and Larsson would always mention the mystery book he was reading by name. I enjoyed this charming little touch as an homage to past and current mystery writers.

There were times the writing seemed a bit simple or awkward but of course one never knows in a translated book exactly why that is.

All in all, I really liked this one and I suspect the characters will stay with me. It's a book with a certain amount of staying power which is why I guess it's such a worldwide phenomenon. Entertainment Weekly even made it their cover story this past week, calling it the hottest book on the planet. I'm glad to have read it for that reason alone, because few books manage to capture the attention of so many people and it's always fun to join in a literary conversation already happening in current times.

The Entertainment Weekly issue talks about the casting for the American versions of the film. (there is already a Swedish film) I honestly can't believe some of the names being tossed around and hope they find a good unknown! It also shows different covers of the book from around the world which is fascinating! I was lucky enough to meet the designer of the US covers when we went on a tour of Random House during Book Expo America week. I think the American cover stands out as very different, but I do love the dark look of some of the others.

Rating: 4.5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Profanity, sex, rape scenes, violence
Source of Book: Bought it
Publisher: Knopf (Random House)


Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment! I appreciate hearing your thoughts.