Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

This book was recommended to me by a reader as a possible beach read. When I walked into the bookstore two days before we left for our vacation it happened to be the first book I saw so I grabbed it. Then earlier this week I was having an extensive conversation with someone about a boy with a dragon tattoo and I realized, "Whoops - I wanted to do a book review."

So here is my book review on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson.

I was about halfway through this book before I realized that it is the first book in a series of three. It seems the books aren't connected in any way other than the two main characters, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. I was glad to see that there were additional books because: 1) Mikael and Lisbeth don't even meet until more than halfway through this first book and 2) this book ends rather abruptly after it ties up the loose ends of the mystery that the pair are solving. Knowing that there are two more books to look forward to is definitely a good thing (although also a sad thing - author Steig Larsson wrote the three books, delivered them to his publisher and then died shortly thereafter so they are releasing the three books in quick succession).

I liked this book nearly immediately. The chapters bounce back and forth between following Mikael and Lisbeth so the reader can slowly piece together information about their lives without getting sick of them. The story revolves around Henrik Vagner, an aging businessman who hires Mikael to solve the mystery of his niece's disappearance some 40 years ago.

When I'm reading a book, I like to imagine what the main characters look like. It helps me personify them more. Usually this image changes in my mind as I make my way through the book, but sometimes I am able to identify a specific person of whom a character reminds me.

Here's the description of the first time we meet Henrik Vagner, "He looked surprisingly vigorous for eighty-two: a wiry body with a rugged, weather-beaten face and thick grey hair combined straight back. He wore nearly pressed dark trousers, a white shirt, and a well-worn brown casual jacket. He had a narrow moustache and thin steel-rimmed glasses." (p. 85)

In this case, here is what I'm absolutely convinced Henrik Vagner looks like:
It's RT! Now granted, RT's about twenty years younger (more so when this picture was taken) than Henrik and I wouldn't necessarily call his body "wiry" these days, but otherwise, it's a perfect match.

And to prove that I'm not just being silly, here's a picture of the actor who played Henrik Vagner in the 2009 Swedish adaptation of the book:

Yeah, I thought you'd agree. You're forgiven for doubting me.

So there you go, my review!

What? You want more?

Really? It's not enough to tell you that one of the main characters made me think of a member of Queen. Ugh - alright then.

Maybe I'm a dork but there's a whole culture of Russian literature that I really like. I adored Crime & Punishment. I've read Anna Karenina (twice). Mr. Larsson was Scandinavian, but elements of this book fell into the same category as the aforementioned Russian novels. For example, he alternates calling characters by their first and last names based on the context and the character speaking. I can't tell you how many times I had to reread portions of Crime & Punishment before I figured out that Raskolnikov, Rodion, and Rodya were the same person. So in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, sometimes it's Lisbeth and other times Salander, sometimes Mikael and sometimes Blomkvist - luckily, unlike Dostoevsky Larsson doesn't also give the characters random nicknames that readers are left to suss out for themselves.

Another element which reminded me of the Russian novels which I adore is the dialogue. There's lots of dialogue in this book. I like that. Nothing bores me more than pages and pages of description about what a certain archway in a particular garden looks like - BORING! This book moves quickly and Larsson gives just enough information so that the reader is coming to the same conclusion as the characters at about the same time. That makes me feel smart and I like feeling smart when I'm reading (because otherwise, why would I bother reading? I'd just do what I really want to do which is sit mindless in front of the television watching reruns of Family Guy. Seriously.) And, unlike the Russian writers, Larsson rarely launches into a three page string of one sentence statements with nary a clue as to which character is speaking - again, much appreciated and makes me feel smart.

The plot is a straight-up mystery. There was a crime (or was there?) and Henrik Vagner would like Mikael Blomkvist to figure out the perpetrator. Through a series of not so random events, Mikael eventually hires Lisbeth Salander to assist him in solving the crime. Initially the crime itself is straight-forward enough. Henrik's niece Harriet disappeared forty years ago. Henrik suspects that she was murdered by someone in the family and wants Mikael to discover who. Right around the time Mikael and Lisbeth finally meet up, clues begin to link Harriet's disappearance to something much more large scale and by the end of the book - HOLY CRAP, I'm sleeping with the lights on tonight! It gets dark and it gets dark fast.

Throughout the book, readers get glimpses into Mikael and Lisbeth's personal lives, but they are just that: glimpses. As I read the last page, I didn't feel like I really know Mikael or Lisbeth at all. I knew I liked them both, particularly Lisbeth who comes across as a sort of kick-ass, feminist, regular person/super hero hybrid. If you've read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (one of my favorite books), she was very Howard Roark-esque: she does her thing and could really care less what anyone thinks of her.

Henrik, on the other hand, not so much. Throughout the whole book, he comes across as this kindly old man but by the end, I was mad at him.

Actually I was mad at Roger. I tend project anger like that. I'll have a dream where Husband does something to upset me and I wake up mad at him. So here, I had no Henrik to be mad at and Husband really hadn't done anything wrong this time, so my anger ended up directed at Roger.

All I can say is, "Not cool, Roger. Not cool."

I'd definitely recommend this book and I plan on picking up the second book in the series The Girl Who Played With Fire and eventually the third book The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. I'm not sure when I'll get a chance to read them as I'm not planning any more vacations, but who knows, I might even be tempted to read these books while not on vacation.

I know, right? I must really like a book when I start making crazy statements like that!

Happy Reading!


  1. Great review! I am about 1/3 of the way through it and have enjoyed it so far. I took a break while on vacation. Which reminds me...I need to get reading again...

  2. I couldn't read the review because I have the book, but haven't finished it yet!!! :-)

  3. AppGal - I did the same thing with my third vacation book. We got home from vacation and I forgot all about it! Whoops!

    Jenny - I tried not to give away any plot details (I was really conscious about that because I hate when a review just retells the story). I do recommend reading it though - I really enjoyed it!

  4. great review! i am in the market for a good book, so I'll have to check the library for this one

  5. Suz - Or I can just send it down to you if you want to read it! Let me know!

  6. I read all 3 books and I think my favorite is The girl who played with fire. I also watched the movie the other day. I'm a little obsessed with the series. They are great books and I can't wait to read your review on the next book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I'm disappointed that there won't be anymore books from Larrson.

  7. Anon - At the end of the vacation, my girlfriend got the second book and said that it off to a great start! I'm excited to see what happens (although sad that I know that it will end so soon!)

  8. The stories are connected through all three books -- especially through 2 and 3. I'm about halfway done with book 3. I devoured book 2 in one day last weekend. Stayed up until 4:30am. Couldn't put it down. If you want to start book 2 and don't want to buy it, you can borrow my copy. Ditto for book 3 after I finish it this week.