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Reflections of a working writer and reader



The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Steig Larsson, born in 1954, was a journalist. He was one of the world’s leading experts on anti-democratic, right-wing extremist and Nazi organizations. He died suddenly and unexpectedly in November 2004, soon after delivering the manuscripts for three crime novels to his Swedish publisher. The first of those manuscripts was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Industrialist Henrik Vanger has lived for forty years in the belief that someone in his family murdered his niece, Harriet.
Journalist Mikael Blomkvist agrees to go under cover to discover the identity of the culprit. But someone else will go to any lengths to hide the truth.
Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo and a security expert, is to assist in Blomkvist’s investigation.
This is a strange novel, 538 pages written at break-neck speed and loaded with tension and suspense. I was unable to put it down, despite the niggling and recurring feeling that what I was reading really needed a good editor.
On the one hand it is the usual crime novel with a client and an investigator, a set of enigmatic clues and a romp through to a conclusion.
But the inclusion of the girl with the dragon tattoo complicates it enormously. Lisbeth Salander is no ordinary heroine, she is a comic-book super-hero, delinquent and dangerous, a genius computer hacker who tolerates no restrictions imposed by individuals, society or the law. Salander is a waif with a history of abuse, children’s homes, foster families and crime. She has been in and out of care all her life and as an adult is supervised by a sadistic lawyer and regarded by the state as legally incompetent.
Violent herself, and presenting in the image of a fifteen-year-old Goth, she is capable of intellectual and physical transformations which allow her to be anyone and go anywhere. And with the aid of little more than a laptop computer she seems able to unearth the complete biography of anyone she chooses to research.
She’s fantastic.
I didn’t believe in her for a moment. Salander is clearly based on Pippy Longstocking, while the journalist is sourced from Kalle Blomkvist, another character of Astrid Lindgren.
I still couldn’t put the book down. And the sequel will be kept back for a long train journey.

26 Responses to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

  1. Mark says:

    I’ve resisted reading this one, despite a few people recommending I give it a go.

    Reason for my reticence is that it’s an English translation from the Swedish. With books that you can read in the author’s original language, you get a sense of the author on the page. You know he’s the one responsible for all those appearances of “despite the fact that” and “for all the world like”. Stock phrases and clichés, I mean. You know at what level he’s practicing his art.

    With translations all that changes. You’re dealing with a ghost, and a slippery one at that. He’s someone you catch out of the edge of your eye, see his real face every once in a while. And he often doesn’t look like the guy the rest of the writing has suggested he looks like. That mole to the right of his nose, you didn’t expect that, or the fact you saw it in the neat turn of phrase he used to spread the rust of sunset across the page.

    Translation’s a collaboration. At its best it’s done by someone who is an artist himself. At worst it looks like an Elvis impersonator has turned up, all the rhinestones on his jumpsuit, and does the things you expect an Elvis impersonator to do, missing the point all the way through his version of “American trilogy”. Thing is, you never know what you’re going to get. Don’t know if it’s the real deal or Elvis Preston has turned up. And you don’t even know when he’s left the building either. . .

    So I’m prejudiced against translations. But so many people have said I should read this one… Maybe I will.

    I’m gonna grimace at the first stock phrase I come across, though, and I’ll wonder who wrote it.

    Thank-you-very-mushhh . . .

    jb says: Yeah give it a go, Mark. It won’t kill you.

  2. Reg Keeland says:

    Book 2 will make a believer out of you, I think, jb.

    And Mark, you have several choices on that first stock phrase: Stieg, his Swedish editor, the American translator (me), and the Scottish editor in London. See if you can guess who’s the perp.

    — Reg

    jb says: Hi Reg, You know, even the Christians didn’t make a believer ot of me.

  3. […] (The Independent) says it never feels like a by-the-numbers thriller. John Baker says it’s a strange novel; like me, he was unable to put it down. Neither could Pop Culture Nerd. Alex Berenson (The New York […]

  4. duncan says:

    This may not be the correct site to ask this question but I have read the first 2 of these books and they are some of the best I have read, although the second book does seem to finish a bit abruptly (unless of course it continues in the third book).
    So whats my question(s) ?
    When will the third book be out (in english) and what will the title be ?

    jb says: OK Duncan, you are right, this is not the correct place to ask your question.
    But it was once thought that the third novel in the series, “Castles in the Sky” (working title) (2007, English title not confirmed, UK release in January 2010). Though I’m sure I read somewhere recently that it was coming out in September 2009.

  5. Reg says:

    Especially not the Xians!!!

    My inside info has it that Quercus is moving up the pub date of #3, entitled THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS’ NEST (has a lot to do with castles in the air/sky), to September.

    It’s a drag when your whole profession is dissed like this — guess I’ll take a year off and do some brain surgery.

    jb says: You seem to be doing a good job to me, Reg.

  6. Sait says:

    Sounds like a good read and I love those Astrid Lindgren quotes and characters you mentioned. It’s fiction to the end that gives me the hikes.

  7. Star Tattoos says:

    Hi, I am very much eager to read these type of suspense oriented novels and thanks for the information about the above mentioned novel.

  8. Pilot says:

    Actually it was kind of disappointing to me. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the only Larsson’s book I have ever read, maybe I have lost something.

    I agree it is well written; the suspense the author was able to create won’t make you leave it till the last page. But I would have said the same thing for a book like The Da Vinci Code, and I didn’t like it either. I expected both of them to be a bit more realistic. But that’s just me.

    jb says: Yeah, I was disappointed also. And I take your point about the Da Vinci Code, though I do think the Larsson book was better written. But I think you miss the point somewhat. These novels are not about realism in any way. They are purely escapist fare.

  9. lida fx15 biber hapi ikibindokuz seo yarismasi says:

    The article is usefull for me. I’ll be coming back to your blog.

  10. biberhapı says:

    So I’m prejudiced against translations. But so many people have said I should read this one..Thanks anyway…

  11. Tony Roi says:

    I didn’t care for this one very much. I agree that it definitely needed some heavy editing.
    I’m an avid reader of crime novels / mystery novels. And even though I wasn’t impressed, I can still show appreciation for Larsson’s work.

  12. StrokeKing says:

    I’ve been looking for a review on this novel since I read it – did you get the sense that this work varied widely from Larsson’s previous work?

    Additionally, I actually found the plot somewhat stale – and as the previous commenter mentioned – the translation issue certainly leaves ‘something to be desired’.

    I was expecting more…

  13. Salvia says:

    Great review! Now I’m curious about this story. I’ll look for it and let you know my impressions about it.

  14. Jack says:

    How did he die? Was it murder, perhaps..?

  15. Temporary says:

    I heard a lot of rumor about this case. Some said that he was murdered because of jealousy, some said he was died of heart attack, there’s some even said that he was curse by his own story. Madness! No one know even now.

  16. Forearm says:

    Really enjoyed the first book – couldn’t put it down (lots of late nights – yawn!). Just started book 2 which is great so far (50 pages in).

  17. Paula says:

    So I was wondering… I bought the second book not realizing it was part of THE trilogy that everyone talks about. SO… Are all three books related? Would it be too confusing to read the second … I haven’t been able to find the first one. Do I have to read the first? You get what I’m trying to find out? Please help!

    Thank you!

    jb says: Maybe someone else knows the answer? I’ve only read the first one and won’t be bothering with the others.

  18. kristina baker says:

    I didn’t read the book, but I just suffered through this Hollywood “formula” flick with subtitles (to give it credibility)! I can’t believe everyone’s falling for this charade (when he’s jogging in the woods you just knew someone would take a shot at him, right?).
    Good grief! Where’s James Patterson? Probably working on a soon to be “found!” manuscript…

  19. Ann says:

    I am curious, now that “The Girl with the dragon tattoo” is now a movie. If they will also make films of the other 2 books. Or does anyone know if they have indeed made films of the other two?

  20. Nida says:

    @ Ann – there are Swedish versions of all three books. They are very dark and graphically violent. They were rivetting but very disturbing. It will be interesting to see what an American version will be like.

  21. Charles says:

    Nice review jb. But I think you should try and read the remaining 2 books. They are much much better than the first. And I also think they will make you believe in the Lisbeth character, she’s better developed and more complex. You get to know more about her complex psychology than in book 1, because the next 2 books focus on her character. But be warned, they get darker and Lisbeth gets very unpredictable (I think that’s because of her many flaws). The remaining two books are the reason why a lot of reviewers think the success of the books is mainly down to the Lisbeth Salander character…… As you said she’s fantastic but I think you’ll find her believable if you gave the other books a chance. Take care!

  22. Charles says:

    oh, one more thing. You are right that the book needed heavy editing. Did you know that Larsson never met with his editor to plan how to edit the books? He died before that he could attend the meetings. His editor just had to use her imagination.

  23. Amanda Health says:

    “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, and the author’s new book, “The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest” … I don’t read fiction but one day I’m going to give it a go – a good fiction book is as good as an informative non-fiction.

  24. Handmade Jewelry says:

    The novel is really rich in detail and quick paced — And incredibly moving in depicting the struggles faced by its female protagonist. This novel somehow brings off having two really well drawn protagonists, one male, one female that one can empathize with. I did not want the story to end. The characters are too intriguing for this to be the end. Lisbet’s story would have made an incredible novel on its own. She has Aspergers and is trapped in an awful school /social system with no advocates and non-existent mental health services. It is really dark in its themes somewhat like the Kite Runner. I cannot wait to read the sequels.

    All in all, its one of the best mystery /thrillers I’ve read from the last decade. In fact comparing it to the Da Vinci Code, the characters are not simplistic one dimensional cut outs at all. The rich characterizations and explorations of dark behaviour remind me of Elizabeth George. I’m waiting for the two final books of this trilogy. It is so sad that the author has passed away and we won’t be meeting the characters for more than just 3 books.

  25. To me the trilogy by Stieg Larsson, were among the best books I’ve read in a very long time. As you mention, on a literary level it may not be very spectacular, but the suspense is so killing that you just can’t put it down. So if you’re buying these books, be prepared for some short nights with little sleep! There’s something about Scandinavian authors that’s very compelling. They’re just incredible story tellers I guess.

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