Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

We start the book following Mikael Blomkvist as he is tried in court thanks to a libelous case he brought against an industry giant with a murky past. His name is brought to the attention of Henrik Vanger, the head of the Vanger Corporation - a man who is plagued by a possible murder that occurred forty years previously. Vanger offers Blomkvist the job of investigating the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. Gradually Blomkvist is drawn into what he believes is an impossible case - with the help of the enigmatic and delinquent Lisbeth Salander, he starts to believe he might bring light to the events.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been a phenomenal success, hyped by many, and I was interested to see what Stieg Larsson actually achieved with the Millennium trilogy. We all know those books which receive hype, and are subsequently disappointing. I'm happy to report that in this case the hype is deserved.

That is not to say this is an easy read. The first 200 pages or so were a struggle to get through at times, and I found it all too easy to put the book down. In the second half of the book the pace accelerates to a driving rhythm which whips you through the rest of the tale. It becomes an absolute page turner (which is a horrible cliche - in the words of Michael McIntyre, that is really the least you should expect from a book, surely? *grins)

I found the prose stilted at times, but I don't know how much of this is to do with the translation of Larsson's original work. Give great credit to the translator, in the most part this felt like a very natural read with very little confusion. I would just say that I didn't appreciate the odd occasion where Larsson appeared to quote word for word the catalogue entry for various pieces of technological equipment.

Lisbeth Salander is a truly startling character - not someone I ever expected to love come the end of the novel. She is spiky, sassy, fiercely intelligent - but also annoyingly private and tolerating of virtually no one. Her upbringing is hinted at, and is made out to be fairly horrific. I wanted to read about Salander - she was totally fascinating and owned the book. I also liked Blomkvist a great deal - with these two leads the book had a strong central core.

At times the rest of the cast of characters could, at times, be mixed up. The Vanger clan was rather large, and led to some moments of 'who was that again?' There was a family tree at the beginning, but I wonder whether a detailed dramatis personae would have worked better?

The plot was intricate and detailed, with a fabulous jigsaw puzzle style - slotting each piece of information into place just at the right time to keep you reading and intrigued. I loved trying to work out ahead of time who might have committed the crime, but I totally failed to put the clues together! It came as a complete surprise, which I'm also pleased about - the book felt clever and not at all by the numbers.

I do want to mention some of the rather harrowing and graphic scenes within this novel. We are dealing with some rather nasty individuals and their behaviour at times was sickening. There is one truly horrible rape scene, which helped to show Salander's attitude and delved a little into her past, but I really didn't appreciate the dark quality of it. There was also a pretty horrendous event involving a cat, and this made me feel physically sick. I deemed this to be a strength of Larsson's writing - his prose made me feel nervous and sickened and as though I was genuinely involved.

Startling, dark and tremendously skilled prose - this novel is an incredible read. Not always easy, but well worth the effort. Recommended.


  1. I also loved this one, and can't wait until I reach the top of the library list for THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE! Apparently that one focuses on Salander, so I hope we learn more of her backstory.

  2. Memory, the other two books are great and you learn all of Lisbeth's back story, have no fear. It's a great shame and tragedy for him that Larsson died before he could write more of the series and live to enjoy his success.

  3. The prose is a bit stilted in the Norwegian translation I have read too. So I guess it is Larsson's writing.

  4. The rape and the cat scenes - are they necessary for understanding the plot, or would it be possible to skim over them and still know what's going on? Because I am really curious about these books, but I have never yet been able to bring myself to read any kind of vivid description of rape. Or wanton cruelty toward animals or children, for that matter. Just can't do it.

  5. @Memory - I feel lucky, I found all three books in a charity shop earlier this year so I can read them back to back. I too would love to know more about Salander.

    @Marduk - I agree that Larsson is a sad loss to literature, especially since he only really gained renown since his death.

    @Ole - Ah, that's interesting to know!

    @Elouise - the rape scene can be skimmed over, it isn't necessary. The cat scene is much more central to the plot. I have to admit, this book is very dark in places - although I loved it, I did want to look away at some points. If you are genuinely sensitive to these kinds of things, then you might want to pass (and it takes a lot for me to admit that).