Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Official FC Rating:
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I saw the movie a couple years ago and was blown away by it, but, not surprisingly, I heard from many that the book was way better. So, when I came across cheap copies of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the second book in the series, The Girl who Played with Fire, in an antique store, I snatched them up.
Explained simply, the novel is a murder mystery. Mikael Blomkvist, our protagonist, is publisher and co-founder of the magazine, Millennium, and is charged with libel against a billionaire industrialist, Wennerstrӧm. Because this case is widely publicized throughout the country, Blomkvist catches the eye of Henrik Vanger, a competing CEO of Wennerstrӧm’s. Vanger lures Blomkvist to investigate the cold case of his missing niece, Harriet Vanger, by promising him that he has evidence against Wennerstrӧm that Blomkvist can use. As the investigation into Harriet’s disappearance gets too challenging for Blomkvist to handle himself, he ends up partnering with one of the best investigative researchers and hackers in Sweden, Lisbeth Salander. The closer the two get to solving the mystery, the closer they also find themselves to imminent danger.
Let me start explaining my feelings about this novel with this: Lisbeth Salander is all that matters. Lisbeth Salander is everything. I mean it- she’s one of my favorite female characters I’ve read in a novel in my adult years, and she’s undoubtedly the best thing about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and, I assume, the rest of the Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson. “Bad ass” is probably the best way to describe Salander, but to break that down, she’s incredibly intelligent, clever, unconventional, and takes no shit from any man. Basically, I want to channel her energy in my daily life.
Salander is significantly more interesting than Blomkvist. To be frank, Blomvist is pretty boring, and I couldn’t figure out his allure. Nearly every female character he has some sort of close relationship with sleeps with him. Sure, there are some redeeming qualities about Blomkvist, but I genuinely get the sense that this character is a “Gary Stu,” the male equivalent of the “Mary Sue.” Blomkvist is described as kind, sensitive, intelligent, handsome, and, obviously, a ladies man.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is frequently described as a feminist novel. Undoubtedly, this was the intent of Stieg Larsson, and I don’t disagree that the novel is in many ways empowering. The original Swedish title of the novel is “Men Who Hate Women.” The novel is also filled with various statistics about violence against women in Sweden. It was made clear that Salander has faced sexual violence in her past and is generally untrusting of men because of this. Without spoiling too much, Salander is faced, again, with sexual harassment and assault by a man with power over her in the novel. Despite the novel addressing this horrendous aspect of the patriarchy, I wouldn’t say the writing is all that feminist.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s problematic that Blomkvist is the “good guy” trope and every woman consequently wants to sleep with him. Additionally, the female characters that are featured the most in the novel have no strong friendships with other women or each other. In fact, because each of the main female characters have slept with Blomkvist, there is this gross jealousy that ends up taking place between them. For a novel that’s supposed to be about the empowerment of women, there isn’t a lot of solidarity seen between the women in the novel.
The physical descriptions of the women are much more in depth than any for the men, in my opinion. I could really picture the women, but not nearly as much with most of the men, including Blomkvist. The women are also, of course, described by a man’s narrative in most cases and thus described in a moderately sexual manner.
Feminist critique aside, I loved this novel. I enjoyed the detail and how I was able to envision the characters and the scenery. The plot was really exciting. Because it had been a while since I had seen the movie, I couldn’t remember entirely who was responsible for Harriet’s disappearance, so new information and plot twists were thrilling. In written form I was able to retain more details about the case and the various suspects. Some people told me that the book was really confusing for them and hard to follow, which wasn’t the case for me, but that could be because I saw the movie first.
And because I know people will be dying to know which I liked better, I definitely have to say that I liked the book more. That being said, I really do think they did a great job with the movie! The hardest thing about seeing a movie version of the book before reading it is being able to envision your own images of the characters and scenes instead. In the case of this book though, I thought the casting was pretty great. Rooney Mara was cast as Lisbeth Salander, and I really think in both appearance and acting Rooney was an excellent fit. Rooney wasn’t a perfect physical match to the description of Salander, so I was able to picture her a little differently. Daniel Craig was cast as Mikael Blomkvist, which, given how mediocrely the character was described physically, was probably a fine fit, but personally I think Daniel Craig is so blah looking. If Blomkvist was described better maybe I could have done a better job creating my own mental image, but, try as I might, god damn Daniel Craig’s face kept popping into my head.
In conclusion, this book gets 5 stars because of Lisbeth Salander mostly, but also because the book was too good to put down. I’m hoping I enjoy The Girl who Played with Fire just as much!