Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Here is my first review for MPP’s book club! I borrowed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from my sister over the 4th of July weekend and finished it within a day. Thought it was hard to get into at first, the story quickly became engrossing as the murder mystery unfolded.

More thoughts + spoilers after the jump…

Henrik Vanger, the patriarch of the once-renowned Vanger family, contacts Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist recently convicted of libel, and asks him to investigate the 40-year-old mystery of his niece’s disappearance. His investigation bring Blomkvist in contact with the titular character Lisbeth Salander, an antisocial personal investigator. Together, they delve into the dark history of the crumbling Vanger empire and as they get closer to the solution, find their own lives in danger.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. Blomkvist and Salander’s investigation extremely engrossing until it reaches its horrifying conclusion. There is a happy, if not exactly uplifting, ending.

What I loved:

The character of Lisbeth Salander is meticulously developed. We, the reader, see both her internal workings, as well as how she is viewed by the people with whom she interacts. This full view is enthralling, as you almost never get to see both the internal and external, especially not in real life. She is the most real character in the book, even though it seems that Blomkvist is the focus of most of the plot. All through my review, I have no problem referring to other characters by their last name, but I keep wanting to write “Lisbeth” instead of “Salander.” You don’t necessarily understand her (her ability to blend any black and white question into a mass of gray; for example, exacting revenge on Wennerstrom or Bjurman), but you know her.

What I didn’t like:

I was completely bored by everything that came after they found Harriet. Finding the dirt on Wennerstrom was too easy, and that whole section could have been summed up in a few sentences. I didn’t exactly like the denouement of their investigation either. Did there really have to be a sex den? Some of the darkness just seemed gratuitous, almost as though the author was getting off on it.

That was only one of the things that stretched my credulity. Salander’s getaway with millions of dollars is one thing. Blomkvist’s ability to attract and sexually satisfy every. woman. in. existence. is another. Salander’s revenge on her guardian, while sort of emotionally fulfilling for the reader, is completely unbelievable. For me, the plot is able to overcome most of the weirdness, to the point that I almost didn’t notice as I was reading because I wanted so badly to find out the ending. It’s only when you’re finished and you start reflecting on the book that you realize its shortcomings.

The Swedish title for this book is Men Who Hate Women (guess they though that wouldn’t sell as well in the US?), and therefore, it’s unsurprising that most of the men in this book seem to hate women. The worst examples, of course, are Harriet’s brother and father, whose depravity is finally revealed as Blomkvist solves the family mystery. Lisbeth’s new legal guardian, assigned after her former guardian dies, has a spotless public reputation, but he rapes and sodomizes her.

Even Blomkvist, while he doesn’t hate women, doesn’t really seem to care about them. It might just be my American prudishness talking, but he has multiple sexual partners, and doesn’t feel any emotional attachments. The closest he comes to thinking about his conquests’ feelings is embarrassment when he is caught by one woman while he’s still in bed with another. This detachment is also evident in his relationship with his daughter and ex-wife. When his daughter comes to visit, he worries about her traveling alone, but doesn’t spare another thought for her until he sees her again. He tends to be like this with everyone, though, so while he may not be a misogynist, he is definitely an asshole.

Henrik Vanger is unique in that he clearly adored his niece, as well as his deceased wife. However, in their absence, he places them on a pedestal. He never remarried after the death of his wife, because no one could live up to the perfection of a woman who lives only in memory. Though he is obsessed with Harriet’s disappearance, he doesn’t bother to keep in touch with his other niece, Anita.

The lone exception is Palmgren, the titular character’s legal guardian, until he dies about halfway through the book. He alone understands Salander. He trusts her and tries to guide her. Of course he dies, and it’s all very symbolic.

Ultimately, I guess I can best share my final opinion by letting you know that I’m borrowing the second book, The girl Who Played With Fire, from my sister this weekend.  I’m hoping that by reading it on the beach in full sunlight, I can counter the dark themes that will surely be prevalent.

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One Response

  1. I like your review. I felt mostly that way after finishing it. I still say the first book is the best of the three.

    I watched the Swedish move based on the novel too. It was mostly loyal to the book, but seemed rushed. Everybody acted well, but they all looked so old and tired! Made me wish I hadn’t seen the movie 🙂

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