Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo


It's a good thing that so many people raved to me about Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; otherwise, I might not have persevered beyond the first thirty pages. In the early going, it seemed to me to be too densely detailed and, frankly, not all that interesting. Quite a bit of background was required to explain a complicated financial fraud that set the story in motion, and that sort of thing makes my eyes glaze over. But around about page thirty, Lisbeth Salander, the tattooed girl of the title, made her first appearance, and from that point on I was riveted. I had to cancel everything else I had planned for the day because I couldn't stop reading. It proved a mind-bogglingly good book in the end—yet another triumph in Scandinavian crime fiction.

I won't attempt to sum up the plot. It's too complex to be boiled down in that fashion and, in any event, I don't want to give anything away. Suffice it to say that there were several twists, and I didn't see a single one of them coming. Riveting plot(s) aside though, the greatest strength of the book for me lies in the characters, particularly the aforementioned Lisbeth Salander who strikes me as a wholly original creation. I read somewhere that one of the inspirations behind Salander was another famous figure of Swedish literature, Pippi Longstocking (and Astrid Lindgren—as well as several fine authors of crime fiction, Swedish and English—is name-checked more than once in the text). This is a bit horrifying to contemplate, as I hate to imagine Pippi living through some of the experiences Salander has had to endure. Yet it also seems perfect, as Salander certainly shares Pippi's grit, independence, and eccentricity.

Author Stieg Larsson died before the book was published, at the tragically young age of fifty. But he had already submitted two sequels to his publishers along with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. So even as we lament the loss of a great writing talent, English readers still have two more novels to which to look forward. The second in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire is not due out in English translation in North America until July, but it was released in the UK in January. I think rather than waiting patiently for July, I'll be putting in an order for the UK edition at The Book Depository pronto.

Update:

I did a bit of digging to find the source of the Lisbeth Salander/Pippi Longstocking connection and found this quotation from an interview with Larsson cited in a newspaper article:

Salander's character [...] was inspired by the strong-willed redhead Pippi Longstocking in the children's books by the late Astrid Lindgren."What would she have been like today? What would she have been like as an adult? What would she be called? A sociopath?" Larsson told book store industry magazine Svensk Bokhandel in the only interview he did about his crime fiction. "I created her as Lisbeth Salander, 25 years old and extremely isolated. She doesn't know anyone, has no social competence."

Then I came across a marvellous post by blogger Dorte Jakobsen in which she explores the parallel in depth.

Finally, lest I've given the wrong impression with all this talk of Astrid Lindgren, I ought to make clear that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a decidedly adult book which is at times very violent (though, even in my squeamish opinion, not gratuitously so).

23 comments:

litlove said...

And I'm glad you warned me the first 30 pages are hard going! It helps to know that sort of thing. I'm looking forward to reading this book very soon myself!

Kailana said...

You know, this is not my general read, but I am starting to think I am going to have to give this book a try!

Suko said...

I'm so glad you reviewed this book, Kate. I'd heard of it, but didn't know whether or not to read it. Now I may put it on my TBR list.

Anonymous said...

So glad you enjoyed this, Kate! Thanks for the background on the Pippi connections.
-Susann

Danielle said...

I have this, and now I am going to have to bump it up the pile. I actually tried listening to it on audio, but it seemed too complicated and I thought it would be a book easier to read than listen to--I can see I was right. I love books that sweep you away so you don't want to do anything else!

Tattoo Artist said...

I've heard excellent things about this book. Thanks for your review. Anything where tattoos make the title can't be half bad.

Marg said...

I really enjoyed this book when I read it last year. I have just picked up the sequel from the library and I am very much looking forward to getting stuck into that one as well.

R. T. said...

I had the privilege of being among the first American reviewers to experience Stieg Larsson's first novel in the Millenium trilogy. My review, which follows, appeared at BookLoons, North American's premier online book review site:

Every now and then an absolute gem emerges from the thousands of mysteries published each year by the many dozens of publishers in the world. The late Stieg Larsson's exquisite new novel is one of those rare treasures.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first volume in the Millennium Trilogy (named after the magazine where the protagonist works); already published to critical and popular acclaim in Scandinavian and European countries, an English translation (by Steven T. Murray) is now available to readers in North America and England.

When the novel begins in Stockholm, two separate story lines begin to take shape. First, the investigative reporter and magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist has been convicted of libeling Hans Erik Wennerstrom, a disreputable but powerful businessman; now, with his professional and personal life in shambles, Mikael must figure out how to reestablish his reputation. Second, Lisbeth Salander has been establishing herself as a singularly effective though unconventional private investigator, and her tortured and tawdry past seems to be the perverse key to her peculiar success.

Blomkvist is then surprised to find himself working on a special assignment on behalf of Henrik Vanger, an octogenarian industrialist who wants Blomkvist to do two things: write a history of the Vanger family (a family with plenty of secrets) and find out what really happened to Harriet Vanger (the sixteen year old granddaughter of Henrik's brother Richard) who disappeared from the family estate on Hedeby Island as 'if she had dissolved into thin air' nearly forty years earlier. Vanger promises to generously reward Blomkvist for his efforts, and - if he is successful - Vanger promises a bonus: important information about Hans Erik Wennerstrom that Blomkvist can use to vindicate himself and to destroy Wennerstrom.

In a convergence of the two separate story lines, Blomkvist and Salander wind up working together on the case of Harriet Vanger, 'a sort of locked room mystery in {an} island format.' Soon, even as their relationship becomes more complicated and interesting, they begin to discover clues - especially through Bible verses and Biblical names - that will help them close in on someone who may be a sadistic serial murderer, a bloodthirsty person whose many victims may have included the missing Harriet Vanger. And just as Blomkvist and Salander are also about to expose some mind-boggling Vanger family secrets, they find themselves in very grave danger.

Any amount of praise and superlatives are quite insufficient, but let me just say that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is dramatic, powerful, literate, complex, provocative, unique, and exciting. Even if you read a hundred others this year, you will not read a better mystery novel than Stieg Larsson's first installment in what promises to be an amazing trilogy. Don't miss it!

Maxine said...

I very much enjoyed this book, too. And the sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, is even better. My reviews of these, and other reviews, are at Euro Crime www.eurocrime.co.uk. And please do join our Friend feed crime&mystery room if you want to share views on reading -
http://friendfeed.com/rooms/crime-and-mystery-fiction
hope to see you there.
best wishes
Maxine.

Dorte H said...

Hi Kate.

Thank you for a good review, and I like your thorough research into the Pippi Longstocking theme. No need to say I am pleased that you enjoyed my Pippi post - actually it was also a pleasure to write it :)

I am now blogging here: http://djskrimiblog.blogspot.com/
and the Pippi post can also be found here:
http://djskrimiblog.blogspot.com/search/label/Pippi%20Longstocking

- but I am afraid it was my scoop of all times :D

Uriah Robinson said...

As you say Dragon Tattoo starts very slowly but the sequel The Girl Who PLayed With Fire is a much better and more action packed book which I am sure you will enjoy.

kate2905 said...

wow, that sounds really interesting. i'm not usually a crime reader but you've got my interests going! thanks

Diane said...

I've heard so much about this book; it is finally on my list :)

Forearm Tattoos said...

Really enjoyed the first book – couldn’t put it down (lots of late nights – yawn!). Just started book 2 which is great so far (50 pages in).

tonirossi said...

I have not read the book but did see the film last week and one point is confusing to me. Michael catches Lisbeth hacking into his computer, but I am not sure why she did hack into his computer in the first place. This would establish her character in the film plot. Does the book give her motivation for getting involved in Michael's investigation of Vanger's missing niece? or was there another reason for her involvement?

Toni

Anonymous said...

Hey Toni,

I just finished reading the book and it was awesome. The reason why Lisbeth was hacking Mikael's computer because she was hired to do so by Dirch Frode, Henrik Vanger's lawyer, through the company Milton Security.

noral said...

i am just about to start reading this booook :D

Steve from Forearm Tattoos said...

Fantasic book, I've gotten a kick out of reading everyone's feedback here.

Literary Kitty said...

I have to say I didn't find it got much better after the first thirty pages although the pace did pick up.

I won't be reading any more Larsson, that's for sure.

Lovin Ma Soldier said...

This book was chosen for our FB book club this month. I can across this post in searching for book discussion questions. Honestly, if it weren't for the book club I probably would not have made it past the first Part in the book. Even after Salander made her appearance I wasn't yet hooked, but I was interested to see where it was heading. Once I got the part where that photo album made him skiddish, that's when I got hooked. I'm glad I stuck it out, I really enjoyed it.

Patty said...

Kate, one interesting fact from Wikipedia...When Larsson was 15 years old he witnessed the gang rape of a girl, which led to his lifelong abhorrence of violence and abuse against women. The author never forgave himself for failing to help the girl, whose name was Lisbeth - like the young heroine of his books, who is also a rape victim. This inspired the themes of sexual violence against women in his books.[18]

Anonymous said...

i just want to throw one thing out there...I just finished watching the 3rd movie of the trilogy...This trilogy is up there with Lord of the Rings...Noomi Rapace (lisbeth) is absolutely captivating...I am genuinely disappointed there is a remake in English. I think it will overshadow the brilliant original..

GTTB said...

Enjoyed your review and hope you don't mind, but I included a link to it in my movie review... http://moviequacks.blogspot.com/2011/12/girl-with-dragon-tattoo.html