Book Review: Girl With a Dragon Tattoo

I've had the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sitting by the side of my bed gathering dust for about a year. I tried to read it three times, but never got past page 30. It was just too boring. But then the movie came out and it has Daniel Craig in it, which means I definitely have to watch it, which means that I definitely have to read the book first. (My son has OCD tendencies. Where oh where does he get the genetic code for that?)

Looks like this is shaping into a sex and violence sort of day. Let's keep going. The Girl with Dragon Tattoo is all about sex and violence and violent sex. 

The Dragon Tattoo starts off very slowly. When I was whining about the slow pace of the book, friends advised to keep going; things pick up after page 100. It did get better.

Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who was convicted of libeling a wealthy industrialist, is hired by another wealthy industrialist to solve a family mystery. He later joins forces with a highly damaged girl, Lisbeth Salander, who is a genius at digging up info on the Internet. 

Stieg Larsson very successfully creates two complicated, likable characters. They are both raped. Lisbeth with an anal plug by a sadist case worker. Mikael by a corporation who humiliates him in the court room on national television. They are both outsiders who smoke a lot of cigarettes and sleep with the nearest body. In short, they are likable people. 

As I stayed up until 1:30 on Christmas night finishing off the book, I got swept into the whole dark Swedish vibe of the book. The small villages on the edge of sea. Laconic neighbors eating herring and drinking coffee on IKEA stools. It's an austere landscape. 

The plot was disturbing. It's all about sex-crazed Nazis. There's some very graphic, disturbing scenes of sexual violence. Despite his little notes about the horrors of violence against women, you get the feeling that Larsson is kinda into it. Yes, yes, sexual violence is a horrible thing. Now, let me write a three page description about a torture cell for prostitutes. I wonder how many of the readers of the book got off on those scenes. 

The writing is so-so. It's a translation, so I don't know if I should blame Larsson or his translator.  

I liked the book, despite the manipulation, and will probably pick up the second book at Barnes and Noble today. Now, it's time to book the babysitter, so I can see my boyfriend, Daniel Craig. (Though I heard that the movie is tanking. They might not even make the second film.) 


8 thoughts on “Book Review: Girl With a Dragon Tattoo

  1. Laura, the original Swedish film was great. The sequel was so-so, and we didn’t bother with the third. I’ve heard really favorable things about this one, but haven’t seen it yet. I’m interested in seeing how it holds up to the original.

  2. I’ve read all three and seen all three Swedish movies, and I really want to see the American remake. I can’t believe it’s tanking? Crazysauce.
    Mikael is what fandom calls a GaryStu. The number of women who want to sleep with him gets pathetic after a while. As does Lisbeth saying “Kalle Fucking Blomkvist.” But the books were total crack.
    I think writers walk a fine line when depicting sexual violence against women. Is it better to refer to it without showing how horrible it is? You can help it if some people get off on it. Can anyone genuinely want readers to know the whole truth about how humiliating and horrible sexual violence is without getting off on it?
    Don’t know the answer to these questions, and I’m trying to put together 3 things: the critique of Larsson’s focus on sexual violence and the Lisbeth Salander backlash, a few reviews I read of the Sherlock premiere that criticized its portrayal of Irene Adler, and my daughter’s negative reaction to Princess Buttercup in Princess Bride this weekend: “Why doesn’t she *do* something? Help him!” (the fireswamp scene, fwiw). I think my conclusion is that, critiques aside, there are significant and positive changes in representations of women in pop culture. (I could add the woman-centeredness of the fairy-tale world of Once Upon a Time as opposed to the noirish male-centered Grimm.)

  3. See the Swedish original films – they capture the mood of Sweden much, much better. I can’t recall one American remake of a foreign film that did it better than the original. They most often end up being heavy-handed with to many “stars” that get in the way of suspending my disbelief.
    If you want to see something suspenseful and a bit lighter, go see the Norwegian film Headhunters. It’s based on a book by Jo Nesbo. Huge hit in Norway this year. I saw it at TIFF last fall.
    And if you want some Scandinavian book recommendations, let me know!

  4. I think the star issue in American movies is really big. The movie makers have come to believe that stars are necessary to make some movies (isn’t the first plan over the HP movies supposed to have broken down over that issue? and Avatar: the last air bender was cast badly in order to cast stars). And, Laura is saying she’ll go see this one for Daniel Craig.
    But, it seems to me that in the US, stars, and the fact that they make so few movies really disrupts the suspension of disbelief. For example, I think Meryl Streep is a great actress, and she manages to stay out of the celebrity lime light to some degree, but she’s probably as famous (though, I’ll admit Thatcher had more influence) as Thatcher. Can she really portray Thatcher?

  5. bj, that’s it exactly for me. I love foreign film and part of it is the attraction of watching normal looking actors whom I am not completely over exposed to. They look like real people that I meet going about my day.
    Of course in their own countries, many of these actors are famous (the lead in the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Paprika Steen is a famous Danish actress that I will see in anything, yet I can still suspend my disbelief when I watch her act.
    And many of the top foreign actors take parts in American movies like the villain in a Bond flick to make a pile of dough. I cheer them on and then look forward to the good movies they will make when they return to their own country!

  6. I liked the American movie (saw it on Saturday) – I thought it was quite well done; the cast and performances were very good. Daniel Craig is a leeetle bit too good looking to be a convincing Blomkvist, but he’s pretty meek and modest in movie, so I think he pulled it off. (I agree that Blomkvist is a GaryStu, but I also think the whole everyone-sleeping-with-everyone-else may be slightly Scandinavian in nature – there’s a casualness about it that struck me as cultural almost as much as Larssen’s wishful thinking). I thought it was just as good as the Swedish version (but then, I liked the second Swedish movie better than the first, which felt a little dutiful to me) (haven’t seen the 3rd yet because I haven’t got hold of the book). I also thought the article about it “tanking” seemed fairly speculative.
    I have the same concerns about whether the sexual violence constitutes torture porn – it’s like, I can’t decide whether Lisbeth is a kickass strong woman, or some kind of male fantasy.
    About star overexposure – I do hate the US emphasis on stars, and love when movies go with unknowns. I really liked Contagion, but had a hard time separating the characters from the actors portraying them. But some actors manage to make you forget they are the “star,” and I think Meryl Streep is one of those (I think she’s uncanny as Thatcher, from the clips I’ve seen). Oddly, another is Renee Zellweger (she annoys me INTENSELY as a human being, but when I actually see her in a movie I forget it’s her).

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