The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Published by Vintage Books in June 2009
Mass-Market Edition, 644 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0-307-47347-9
I have been plodding my way through this book for weeks, trying to figure out how I’m going to properly review it without tearing it apart. I dragged myself through the first 200 pages and then put out a call for help. After consulting with many people, all of whom had already read the book, I concluded that the book was to get better and I would not DNF it. I put it on pause to read Everything, Everything and then continued my way through it. And, well, here are my thoughts.
I think just about everyone has heard of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at this point. The whole series is famous and the first book has been made into a movie–twice. Somehow I hadn’t gotten around reading it until now. I had been intending to for years, but the opportunity just never presented itself. A couple years ago I ended up getting a copy and immediately forgot about it completely. Recently I rediscovered it and decided it was time.
I usually keep my reviews spoiler-free, but in the interest of discussing all my issues with the book, I’m going to warn you all that there will be rampant spoilers throughout this review. I also want to put out a content warning for this book for rape, assault, incest, and plenty more. It was quite the read.
I’ll start off with the problem that almost caused me to DNF this book: it is almost entirely exposition. The first 200 pages alone are exposition. The first half of the book was, in my opinion, dry and boring and unnecessary. It is a translation, so it’s possible that something was lost here. I understood, to some extent, why so much setup was needed, but in my opinion the payoff just wasn’t there.
None of the characters were compelling to me. I understand books with unlikeable characters, but here the main characters were boring and two-dimensional. Blomkvist was bland and I couldn’t fathom why women were throwing themselves at him left and right. Salander had so much potential as a Strong Female Character™, but just ended up being more like an unrealistic caricature. She didn’t feel like a real person and because of that, she just wasn’t interesting to me. All of the romantic and sexual relationships had no chemistry and felt entirely unnecessary.
Sexual assault was essentially just used for shock value throughout the entire novel. Salander is assaulted multiple times. A graphic assault scene is bookended by sex scenes, which is a huge pet peeve of mine as, in my opinion, it contributes to the sexualizing of rape and assault (a huge problem in media). I really didn’t think I got anything out of the repeated assault except for motive for Salander’s distrust of men (I mean same, amirite).
The plot was in and out. Like I said, it kind of dragged on for a while, but it got interesting once things finally picked up. If the story had been condensed, I think I would have liked it a lot more. After the main mystery was resolved, it slowed down again. I almost wish the entire Wennerström plotline had been left out. It provided motivation and background for Blomksvist’s character, but really took up too much time and space and could have been avoided.
Apologies if this was a little meandering, I’m struggling to get all my thoughts put together concisely. I feel badly for not having much good to say about this book, but I was deeply disappointed by it. I’m intrigued about the Swedish film and intend to watch it, but I do not plan to continue reading the series.