Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

(translated by Reg Keeland)

Rating: 4/ 5

Stieg Larsson's posthumously published debut novel is the first in a series of 3 novels in the Millennium series. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been popping up on bestseller lists for a long time now, which is when it went on my TBR list.

The start of the book introduces the mystery of Harriet Vanger, the scion of the Vanger family who disappeared over 40 years ago. Henrik Vanger, her uncle wants to get to the bottom of her disappearance once and for all.

To do this he hires Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist. Blomkvist has been convicted of libel for a story he wrote about financial genius Hans Wennerstrom. Due to the conviction he has to serve a prison sentence and give up his position as publisher of Millennium magazine. Blomkvist is heading towards depression because he believes in his exposé of Wennerstrom, but has no proof.

Vanger approaches Blomkvist dangling a tasty carrot- in return for his investigating Harriet's disappearance, Vanger will give him proof of Wennerstrom's financial fraud. This gives Blomkvist the impetus to agree to solve what he describes as a 'classic closed door mystery', the vanishing taking place during a family reunion on Hedeby island. Blomkvist hires Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant PI to help him, but as their investigation proceeds it quickly becomes apparent that the truth is much darker and more sinister than anyone had imagined.

In addition to being a mystery, this book is also a broad perspective of Sweden, on the financial journalism, on it's social and welfare programs, on the sexual abuse of women in Sweden (presented as little tid-bits before the start of the various sections in the novel) and a family saga. It also contains technological mumbo-jumbo for a complete package of crime in the twenty-first century. In short, it's one of the most engrossing, multi-layered thrillers I've read in a long time. And it was very interesting to read about another setting, most thrillers I read seem to be located in America.

Easily the best part about this book is in the unique title character of Lisbeth Salander. She's brilliant at computers, but is mostly unemotional and uninvolved in her interactions with people. That this genius comes packaged in a tiny, anorexic-looking punk facade with tattoos and piercings confuses everyone she comes across.

Blomkvist is much less complicated. A possible foil for a lot of the women hating in the novel, he is a man who easily loves and is loved by women (this part really made me scoff). Blomkvist becomes the only person who does not expect or demand something from Salander, eventually they come to trust each other laying the groundwork of a formidable team.

I must mention that I think the title of the translated version is misleading, Blomkvist features more in the book though I agree that Salander is the more interesting character. The book's original title in Sweden was 'Men who hate Women'. And the buzz is that the recently released The Girl Who Played with Fire deals with Salander's back story and has Blomkvist and Salander team up again. Cannot wait to read it!!


Series Order

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
2. The Girl who played with Fire
3. The Girl who kicked the Hornet's Nest - to be released 2009



samir said...

Very interesting, will read it soon.
I have not read a good thriller in a very long time, thanks for reviewing this one. All your observations peak my interest; Sweden as a setting, financial & technological details, sexual abuse of women in Sweden.
Lisbeth & Mikael do make an eclectic pair, and trust you to find something like this.

Smita said...

I have been seeing this on the rack for a long time!!! Might get it now!!!

You know a strange things has been happening to me. It has been more than a week and am unable to finish any book. Unfortunately any book that I pick is bad!!! Dunno what has happened!!!

WhatsInAName said...

A pro review yet again. I like thrillers and the story seems very interesting. The title used to draw me to the book but now with your vote, it should make it to my library.

WhatsInAName said...

Oops and about that rangoli, gee I am so sorry for the delay. You see I am typing comments from mobile. Mailing will be from home soon :)

couchpapaya said...

samir - let me know what u think! i cant really take credit for finding it as such, it's been on the top of all bestseller lists for so long now. i finally picked it up at the airport when i had read through the book i took with me on the outgoing flight itself. this book was great company, had no clue how the hours flew by :)

smita - yeah i understand, i was in such a funk too recently. for me it went away after i read one good book, so u just need to find that one .... hoping for u that u find it soon!! also, sometimes for me a genre change helps. let me know what u think if u pick this one up!!

WIAN - hey, even i was attracted to the title!! :) which is why i had to insert the last para about how misleading it is. as for the rangoli, take ur time .. i was just hassling u :)

Smita said...

Am reading Eat Pray Love and liking it :D

BTW say Audrey's new book, it has such a gripping story I tell you!!! The tag of 575/- bucks is keeping me away!!! Now waiting for the paperback to release!!

couchpapaya said...

amita - yes even i'm waiting for the paperback version to buy .... and the story does sound great. i thought i'd be cunning and get it from the library, by the time i remembered to request it, i'm 400+ something in the queue :( atleast that number is a little smaller than the sequel to dragon tattoo, i'm 600+ in the queue!!! if i dont want to read these books 2 years from now, looks like i'll just have to buy them :( hey, do review eat,pray, love, i've been hearing quite a bit abt it!

avdi said...

This I really must pick up. Soon.

couchpapaya said...

avdi - do! i saw miss pettigrew, very cute. also watched before the rains- was ok, i think the filmmakers were confused betn whether they wanted to make a love story, a story of friendship or india's freedom struggle. kerala looks beautiful though. was disappointed that das had a 10 minute role!

Angel's Flight said...

Lovely Post....i got so tired of not reading that I picked up my fav big book to read and finished it recently...the Atlas Shrugged! love it!

Bouncing-Bubble said...

long time since i read ANY book! will incl this in the to reads!

couchpapaya said...

angel - oh i used to love it too. however, as much as i tried, and i must have picked it to re-read about 5 times, i have never been able to completely read galt's humongous speech .... i space out 2 pages in!

bubbles - let me know how u find it!

avdi said...

Cp: REad this recently and really, your review describes the book so well. I did not like (felt uncomfortable) with the 'dark secret' and was a bit miffed with the story meandering on after the 'secret' is out.

But it is easily the best 'thriller' I have read in recent time. And like you, I think its good it wasnt set in America.

But Lisbeth Salander.. gimme more ! Even I was puzzled that the title referred to Lisbeth, but the story did not center her. I have read that the subsequent sequels have her, and can read those books more for her.

I was a bit put off by the author referring to all his characters by their last name, but maybe that is a swedish thing.

All in all, engrossing.

couchpapaya said...

Avdi - Glad you liked it :) Yes, what I didnt add to the review was that the mystery was not great, I guessed most of it. Not the exact secret, but there was only one way I thought it could go. I agree the final bits dragged!! And I ignored the writing because I thought some of the fault might lie in the translation. I think the reason I loved Salander's character is because it portrays a disabled person who is not a victim. Do review the second if you get your hands on it before I do!!!

avdi said...

I will look for it in the library. Hopefully it will have more of Lisbeth and less of poor Blomkvist.

magicalsummer said...

am a bit sceptical of over-hyped best sellers (how i hated orhan pamuk's museum of innocence!!) and dithered over picking up this book. well, if you've given it a 4, i will buy :) have you read the others? what did you think of them?

couchpapaya said...

Mags - Good to see you after a long hiatus :) I dislike hype too, but my tastes are pretty common so most often I like best-sellers. Except for the ones I dont like :) Anyway, let me know how you find it! I have not yet got my hands on the rest of the series. Will probably review when I do ....

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