25 September 2009

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I finished Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on August 12. I haven't reviewed it until today because the book is complicated and deals with some very disturbing themes. I was just not sure how to review the book without giving away the entire story. Perhaps that means that this novel would be an excellent book club selection.

The other day, Jill at Fizzy Thoughts wrote an amazing review, and I'm basically stealing her format. Be sure to read her post because I'm not going to address the same issues. Also note that, like Jill, I'm not going to provide a summary because this book has been reviewed a hundred times on book blogs and because I really don't know how to do the book justice in a summary.

Instead, I'm going to talk about just two aspects of the novel that have stuck with me.

One of the plot devices that I found most compelling in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that I was never sure who the main protagonist was. I read a lot of mysteries, and I generally know within a chapter or two who I'm supposed to be rooting for, who will be solving the case, and who will be the star of the series. Before I even started Tattoo a, I knew I was reading the first in a trilogy. But what I didn't know was whether Lisbeth Salander or Mikael Blomkvist or someone else was going to end up being the person who anchored the books.

What this means is that I could never relax and say, "Oh that person can't die" or "Of course that character will figure it out." It was not clear to me, even as I reached the concluding chapters, who would be around for the next book. This was brilliant move on Larsson's part. Imagine reading a mystery series and realizing that every character had an equal chance to make it to the next book. That means it was just a bit tricky to predict the ending.

The other aspect of the book I found interesting was learning about the protective and welfare system in Sweden. I didn't do any research into this, so I'm not sure how accurately Larsson described the federal programs, but the structure of those programs plays a part in the novel, which I think helps make the book uniquely Swedish.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Books on Tape) read by Simon Vance. His narration is absolutely fabulous. His characterizations, pacing, and inflections perfectly match the novel. Vance is one of my go-to narrators, and he didn't let me down here.

In case you haven't seen it yet, here is the trailer for the movie:

Published by Knopf Doubleday ISBN-13: 9780307454546 Challenges: Support Your Library, 100+, 999 YTD: 71 Rating: B+


bermudaonion 9/25/09, 7:23 AM  

I've got this book and I'm anxious to read it, but I've been contemplating listening to the audio version because I've heard it's great as well.

Unknown 9/25/09, 7:27 AM  

I've always wanted to read this but have always had a preconceived notion that I won't enjoy at all. Don't know where I got that from? Maybe will pick it up once I have nothing else to read but from your review, I'm starting to reconsider.

Beth Kephart 9/25/09, 7:32 AM  

I tried and tried to get into this book and kept failing to get past the beginning, which struck me as wooden, somehow. Of course, I know that I'm in a terrible minority position, so I'm going to give it another try.

Anonymous,  9/25/09, 7:48 AM  

I just bought this book last weekend, along with The Girl Who Played With Fire, and I'm anxious to read both of them!

Unknown 9/25/09, 8:00 AM  

I have to admit that I haven't read your review as I plan to read this book soon. I didn't realise there was a movie - thanks for letting me know! I'll come back in a few weeks time when I've finished the book.

Meghan 9/25/09, 8:04 AM  

I kind of skimmed your review, but then realized you didn't give anything away! I also love the plot device that you mentioned, the uncertainty about who is going to make it to the next book. I'm planning on reading this trilogy once the third is out and I'm looking forward to it.

Nise' 9/25/09, 8:09 AM  

Great review! I wonder if the name change contributed to the confusion of the main protagonist? I kept thinking something was strange about the "system" in the book and had to keep reminding myself this was not the US.

I have read the 2nd book and am looking forward to the 3rd.

Julie P. 9/25/09, 8:33 AM  

Interesting take -- I love it! This book is one of the ones that I'm dying to read. Unfortunately I don't have a copy of it right now! Everyone I know has just loved it!

serendipity_viv 9/25/09, 9:44 AM  

I bought this a while ago and I am just desperate to read it.

Melissa Ward 9/25/09, 4:03 PM  

I loved GWIDT and loved TGWPWF even more - the third one comes out in the US in May 2010.

Also, thanks for the trailer link - I have it saved in my Netflix queue so hopefully it'll appear on DVD soon (and you can't tell me how glad I am that it is still a Swedish movie).

Nely 9/25/09, 4:16 PM  

I read this a while back and enjoyed it - still haven't gotten around to reading Girl Who Played With Fire. I had no idea they were making a movie - awesome. Wonderful review as always.


bookmagic 9/25/09, 5:51 PM  

I didn't know who the protaginist was until the end of the book.
I had no idea a movie was in the works. Thanks for the trailer

Margot at Joyfully Retired 9/25/09, 6:59 PM  

I've been holding off getting this one as it just seems, at least from most of the reviews, a little strange. But you have me intrigued with the idea of no one main protagonist. I like the way you did this review. You're right, there's no need to do a recap of the plot.

Anonymous,  9/25/09, 8:17 PM  

Thanks for the mention. :-)

Excellent point about who was the main protagonist...that confused me, too. And kept me wondering where the book was going...I never realized that was why, though.

I was amazed by the guardianship rules...and the fact that Lisbeth was in her 20's and still, essentially, a ward of the state.

Eva @ One Swede Read 9/25/09, 8:23 PM  

Glad to hear you liked it. And, yes, Larsson's descriptions of the Swedish system is quite accurate, although Lisbeth is in quite a rare situation.

Larsson was first and foremost a journalist (he specialized in extreme right-wing and neo-Nazi organizations), so his knowledge of the Swedish legal system was vast.

Literary Feline 9/25/09, 9:07 PM  

I hope to read this one. You bring up some points that have me even more curious to dive into this one. Thank you for your great review, Beth!

Kim 9/26/09, 1:39 AM  

It is confusing who the protagonist is when the title is about one of them but we keep reading about another. The second book fills out Lisbeth nicely. The third book comes out in England next week and I'm hoping a friend will pick it up for me.

What has me thinking is how we are given a portrait of very bad treatment of women, and yet, Kalle isn't so terrific either, he emotionally hurts women right and left and almost hides behind the veneer of "honest non-commitment."

Thoughts of Joy 9/26/09, 8:37 AM  

I'm looking forward to this. I'll come back to read your review when I have. Glad to see that you liked it though. :)

Marie Cloutier 9/26/09, 10:41 AM  

I know what you mean, because the book starts out one way and then evolves into something else. I enjoyed it a lot and look forward to reading the sequels.

Alice 9/27/09, 11:01 AM  

I've heard a lot of great things about this book. I have it on my TBR for quite some time. I have every intention of reading this very soon.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 9/27/09, 11:44 AM  

I won this recently at Ashley's blog, and added it to my Mailbox Monday for tomorrow. I think it will be a deep winter read for me, so I can concentrate (snuggled in on the sofa!)

Literate Housewife 9/27/09, 3:47 PM  

Very interesting points about this novel, Beth. Did you read it on paper or audio?

Jenners 9/27/09, 7:37 PM  

I've been seeing so much of this and the follow-up books and it sounds so intriguing ... though I really can't get a handle on exactly WHAT the book is about -- which sounds kind of good to me. It is definitely going on my must read list!

Melody 9/28/09, 2:21 AM  

I've heard nothing but raves about this book. I've it in my pile but not sure when I'd read it though (Blame it on my reading mood!)

Veens 9/30/09, 6:56 AM  

I feel my review in many ways is pathetic compared to yours and Jill's!

But the book was wonderful! I atleast once thought Michael will be killed and Lisbeth will move on... :D :D

i know feminismm ;)

Yeah the guardianship thing sucked.. if that's the way it is... i m waiting for the 3rd one.. that's coming in Oct, i have heard!!!

wow!!!!!!!!!! Thank you ;)

I need to send to Hubby dearest.. he doesn't understand why i LOVES a 600 + pages book :D

Veens 9/30/09, 6:58 AM  

That's not in English :()

Will they not bring it out in English :(

Bernadette 9/30/09, 7:51 AM  

I think you've picked out some really salient points about the book Beth - I found the guardianship issue quite astonishing.

I'm about 12 hours away from picking up my copy of the final book in this series and I have to say I can't wait. 682 pages apparently which is probably too long but I'm looking forward to it anyway.

S. Krishna 9/30/09, 6:07 PM  

I loved this book, as you know. You are totally right, Larsson totally keeps the reader guessing! Great review!

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