“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”

For my Christmas novel this year I chose Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  I knew little about the story or characters, and little about the author except that he had died in 2004 after completing this novel and two others in a series.  I enjoy reading novels by foreign authors.  Larsson was Swedish and he sets this novel in Stockholm and along the east coast of Sweden.  This was a very different Sweden from Ingmar Bergman’s films.  However, like Bergman, Larsson explores the reaches of the human heart, how it can be hurt, and how it can be healed.

Alfred A. Knopf hardcover; available also in paperback

First of all, I LOVED this novel.  I had problems putting it down to eat, sleep, etc.  I am really looking forward to the two other books in the series that this novel began, i.e. The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  Larsson’s website is clean, easy to navigate and has information on the novels as well as the movies being made in Sweden of all three.  It is a very sad thing that Larsson died so suddenly of a heart attack and did not see his novels published or the reader response to them. 

Second, Larsson uses, to powerful effect, the technique of allowing other characters to introduce primary characters.  We meet Mikael Blomkvist directly, but then learn more about him through the investigation done by Lisbeth Salander of Milton Security for a lawyer working for the man who will hire Blomkvist based on Salander’s conclusions about him.  Salander’s boss introduces her, then we see Salander in action, reporting her findings to the lawyer.  The first almost 100 pages are all about these characters and what is important to them, what drives them.  Then on page 100 (in the Vintage paperback), we get the purpose that will drive the story.  This set-up is quite long, and so focused on character rather than action that Larsson risks losing the reader, except the characters are so interesting.  Throughout the novel, Blomkvist comments in his mind about other characters, as does Salander, but their thoughts do not align, giving the story an added layer of suspense.

Third, I admire Larsson for taking on a subgenre of the thriller genre, serial killer, and breathing new life into it.  He gives his characters psychological depth without making it obvious.  As Blomkvist and Salander work, we are next to them, following the leads, researching past events, and making conclusions.  I admit that I had figured out who the killer was long before Larsson reveals it, but then he pulls back into the story a thread he’d introduced at the beginning for Blomkvist, connects it to the serial killer plot, and gives it the Salander treatment as Blomkvist works to tie up loose ends.  Absolutely awesome.

Finally, Lisbeth Salander is now one of my all-time favorite characters.  Tough and vulnerable, highly intelligent but not socially adept, an outsider who doesn’t want to be inside society, her mind and behavior illustrate brilliantly the aftereffects of severe trauma on a human.  But Larsson doesn’t make a big deal out of it.  He writes Salander as she is, the bad and the good (and yes, there’s major bad), without sentimentalizing her or her past in any way.  In fact, he withholds what the original trauma was and focuses on who Salander is in the present of the story.

I recommend The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo highly for anyone interested in fine writing, original storytelling and characters so real you may just end up talking back to them as you read…..especially Lisbeth Salander.


7 responses to ““The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”

  1. This sounds really intriguing. I’ll have to ask Peter if he’s read it (in the original Swedish, of course :-). And add it to my “when I’m filthy rich spending my afternoons on a beach in the Greek Isles reading till my eyes fall out” list.

    I just read the prologue to a novel, which is actually a note from the author. It’s the Nth in a long running SciFi series. He is explaining how, after so long, he had originally planned to kill off the central character, and then with the next book pick up 30 years in the relative future, with her two children as the central characters, giving him the opportunity to then run two different concurrent story lines focusing on two different aspects of society/military/intelligence. The author (David Weber) sort-of-regretted that he had collaborated with another author to write a novel in the same “universe”, which de-railed his plans. He moved the “two different story lines” up, and created 3, leaving the main character alive.

    The author’s appeal to the audience is that, in effect, “some of what you read in the subsequent novels is the same thing from two different people in the two different focused story lines. This is not for bulk of writing: it’s to let you understand that particular story line’s focus; after all, no two people will tell the same story from the same events; the different perspectives are required to understand the story that *that* novel is try to tell.” In other words, (as I understood him), the same events need to be use differently in order to tell two different stories. I just started reading one of them; hopefully I’ll find it as enjoyable as his previous works.

    Captain Alatriste (translated from the Spanish) by a man whose name I don’t recall off hand at this late hour with this lovely whiskey… Arturo something… has the whole story told in the 1st person, who isn’t the central character, i.e., isn’t Capt. Alatriste. It is, by the way, an absolutely wonderful book. The language is wonderful; give it’s a translation, I hope I’m getting the really feel for the original. There are a couple sequels, of which I have only yet read one, which was good; but as it wasn’t novel (no pun intended), it lacked the awe of the 1st one.

    thanks for the recommendation; happy new year!

    • Elizabeth, you won’t have to wait until you’re “filthy rich spending afternoons on a beach in the Greek Isles….” Unless, that means the same as “when hell freezes over”! You can borrow my copy.

      I’ve heard of the Captain Alatriste novels — I became aware of them when there was news that Viggo Mortensen was going to play Alatriste in a movie of one of the novels that was made in Spain. I don’t know if we’ll ever see it here. Not familiar with David Weber. Clearly I need to learn more about the sci fi universe today, although maybe not. It might be better for my own writing if I focus on it and not everyone else’s….

  2. This sounds really interesting…it’s one of the titles that always “jumped” out at me when I saw it on the shelves…but I hadn’t really heard anything about it until now. I might have to check it out…thanks for the suggestion!

    • Definitely check it out, David. It’s a fabulous read. I just ordered your novel from Amazon! Looking forward to it.

    • It’s on my long list of “to read”s now thanks to your recommendation.

      And, wow, thanks, Cinda! I look forward to hearing what you think of it.

      • You’re welcome! Some interesting comments at Amazon about it and I enjoy psychological suspense novels a lot. But fair warning — I can’t guarantee I’ll be reading it in the near future. It’ll depend on how soon I finish the novel I’m reading now….. I’ll let you know.

  3. Pingback: Movie vs. Novel: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” | Anatomy of Perceval

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