girl-wOver the holidays, I stumbled upon a book called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in my brother-in-law’s library. After gobbling it down in a few days (if eyeballs can swallow, that is), I was glad I read it on break when I didn’t have much to do. As it was, I was angry at myself every time I had to stop to eat, bathe or sleep.

At first, Stieg Larsson’s novel seems like two stories in one book—a financial journalist hired to investigate a 40-year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of a teenaged girl from an island (very “Ten Little Indians”-ish), and a waif with possible Asperger’s Syndrome who works part-time at a security firm while trying to get out from under an abusive legal guardian. These two plotlines eventually converge when the titular girl gets hired by the journalist to help him with his investigation, which starts out as just a front for him to get back at a greedy and powerful businessman who put him in jail, but turns out to be a very dangerous task which puts the journalist’s life at risk.

If all that sounds confusing, don’t worry. Larsson explains everything to you in 465 pages and even includes a helpful chart of the missing teenager’s family (relatives who were on the island the day she disappeared are suspects). There’s a lot of story to tell, a lot of themes and characters to juggle but Larsson does it masterfully. He makes it clear how he feels about misogynists, sadists, cowards, and corrupt bastards. The book is smart, unflinching, twisty in its mystery and—the most obvious sign it’s a notable tale—haunting. Lisbeth Salander, the girl with said tattoo, is a singular creation. She’s difficult, brilliant, aloof, tough, scary and I can’t stop thinking about her long after I finished the book.

It’s a good thing I’ll get to see more of her since Tattoo is only the first book in Larsson’s Millenium trilogy. Luckily, he turned in all three manuscripts to his publisher at the same time so the wait between books won’t be long (the second installment, The Girl Who Played with Fire, will be available in the U.S. this July and is already out in the UK). Tragically, Larsson died of a heart attack before the first book could be published and become an international bestseller (the books were translated from Swedish to English by “Reg Keeland,” a pseudonym of Steven T. Murray). Larsson the man may be gone but his compelling, searing voice resonates in the work he left behind.

Rating: Brilliant

17 responses to “THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO Gets Under Your Skin

  1. If I put one more ‘pending’ book on my bedside table, I think it will start throwing them back at me! But this sounds like an intriguing one to add once I’ve made a dent in the stacks. (Sad that he passed away before the books were published but how grand that he completed the trilogy first. Hopefully he died a happy man.)

  2. I’m glad you discovered that book and that you’re now promoting it on your site!
    Stieg Larsson’s trilogy has been amazingly successful in all Europe, especially here in France.
    As for me, I read the first tome and enjoyed it very much, I just couldn’t close it!

    For the anecdote, the original title was “Män som hatar kvinnor” which literraly means “The men who hate women”. The translation was close to this in most countries, it’s funny to see how different it is in English. But I must admit “The girl with the dragon tatoo” sounds nice!

    Finally, just so you know, three movies are being made in Sweeden from the three books. The one adapted from the first tome will be released in February-March in Scandinavia and on May 13th in France. The others may only be released in DVDs.

  3. ShelleyP,

    Larsson said he wrote the book as “pension insurance” so it’s sad how he never lived long enough to draw on it.

    I get what you mean about the pending book pile on the nightstand. Mine is threatening to topple over and harm me in my sleep! Which ones are in your stack?

  4. Julien,

    Wow, I didn’t you know you’re in France! First ShelleyP writing from Australia and now you from France. I’ve heard from subscribers in England and wonder if there are other international readers here. If you’re out there, let us know!

    It is interesting how the English title went in a completely different direction, though I prefer how it puts the focus on Lisbeth rather than the pigs in the novel. I probably wouldn’t have picked up a book called Men Who Hate Women because I wouldn’t want to spend my time reading about misogynists, whom the novel actually decries.

    Are you familiar with the actors who play Michael and Lisbeth (Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace) in the movies? I think they generally look like how I saw the characters in my head. If you do see the film in May, please let me know how it is. I’d be interested in catching it on DVD if it comes out here.

    I couldn’t put the first book down, either. The good news is the American translator says they only get better!

  5. Bonjour, Julien! Your English is superb.

    I agree, Elyse, about the title. If I was just seeing it on the shelves without reading a rave review like yours, I wouldn’t buy a book titled, ‘Men Who Hate Women’. {I just searched and it has the ‘Dragon Tattoo’ title here in Australia: very wise!}

    I guess even though Larsson didn’t get to draw on his pension insurance, he died with the comfort of knowing he could. {I’m trying to make it feel a bit less depressing!}

    Books on my bedside table {you can tell I’m being honest – there is nothing highbrow here 🙂 } Janet Evanovich ‘Plum Lucky’ and 14th Stephanie Plum book {for escapism and fun}; Helitzer’s ‘Comedy Writing Secrets’, Lynne Truss ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ and Robert Bly ‘The Copywriter’s Handbook’ {for improving my writing}; J K Rowling ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’ {a Christmas gift – only tiny but I’m saving it as a reward for finishing the others!}.

    And I have a few that always live there to inspire me to happy thoughts before I go to bed or when I wake up: Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and a very sweet little book by Victoria Moran, ‘Creating a Charmed Life’. It may be out of print now, but if you ever spot it in a second-hand bookstore, it’s a gem.

  6. Yikes, sorry that was so long!

  7. ShelleyP,

    You never have to apologize for long comments here! The more details the better!

    I’ve read all the Stephanie Plum books except the last one. I thought they started out great and then somewhere around number 7 or 8, the quality really declined. Now, they’re so repetitive they frustrate me. Stephanie needs to decide on either Joe or Ranger or a new love interest should be introduced already!

    Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots, and Leaves is hilarious, especially since I feel much the same way she does! I’m also a J.K. Rowling fanatic though I haven’t read Beedle the Bard, either. I’m not quite done mourning the end of the Harry Potter series and I’m afraid the book will simply be a cruel reminder that there’s no more.

  8. Interesting … I have been bugged by the ongoing Joe/Ranger thing, too, and felt the stories were becoming same-old. {I also find it implausible that two men would continue to put up with sharing her attentions.} But I keep reading them anyway 🙂

    I read a book JE wrote {with Ina Yalof} about how she writes. In it, she says that when writing a series, you need to decide whether you will continue to move forwards in time or not. She elected not to, so Stephanie Plum is thirty-something going on thirty-something. There would be positives to that, but I wonder if it causes challenges with things like ongoing love interests. Perhaps No.14 will have take an unexpected turn. I haven’t peeked!

  9. Okay, enough is enough…I’ve heard so much about it, I guess I have to give in and finally read the darn thing. Thanks for pushing me over the edge!

  10. I read it too! It’s great! But someone beat us to the optioning of it.

  11. Sounds like a very cool read, I’ll check it out!

  12. Yes, Elyse, you have one French loyal subscriber and surely many more other foreign readers! How classy is that, huh?!
    Then of course I only learnt English at school, so thank you Shelley P. for describing it as “superb”, I enjoy the compliment (although I’m sure I sometimes sound awkward ou unclear)!

    Concerning Larsson’s first tome, I agree that the English title sounds more attractive that the original one.
    However, I find it a bit strange to use a metaphor for the female heroe as a title for one of the investigations she’s involved in.
    It’s like if Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient-Express” had been called “The man with the upward-curled moustache” instead (referring to detective Hercule Poirot)!
    Here in France Larsson’s books have been very sucessful, even with titles like “The men who did not like women”.
    Well, I must admit that the nice and very recongizable covers of the three tomes – black background, thin red molding and mysterious round picture, definitely contribute to turn these books into best-sellers in France! What a shame they did not keep this design for the other international markets!
    Anyway, I’ll try to see the Swedish movie in May and tell you about it! (I’ve never heard of these two Swedish actors, but I guess their looks kind of fit the characters.)

    The two next tomes are said to be nearly as good as the first one, but I have not found time to read them yet: they’re also in my pending book pile along with many others!
    The thing is my laziness sometimes makes me choose the shortest books among the pile (which put Larsson’s thick tomes rather down the list!) plus I like letting some time go by between two books of the same series and avoid overdose.
    It’s the same with TV series: I prefer having to wait between two episodes (thus making impatience grow!) than watching a complete series in a few days! Don’t you, guys?!

    Ok, I don’t apologize fot this never-ending comment, but still… I’m sorry! 😉

  13. Julien: Good point re the metaphor … perhaps in today’s world, ‘The Man with the Upward-Curled Moustache’ would capture more curiosity than ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ 🙂 .

    I usually prefer a little break between episodes or authors, unless there’s been a real cliffhanger. Then I love it if I can follow straight to the next episode!

  14. Julien,

    Your English is fantastic. I learned French in school but there’s no way I can write in French the way you can write in English. And thank you for being a loyal reader!

    Your point about The Man with the Upward-Curled Moustache made me laugh! It made me think of alternate titles for other novels featuring famous detectives, i.e. The Man with the Heroin Habit instead of The Hound of the Baskervilles!

    I don’t have much self-restraint when it comes to devouring my favorite things so if I find a good show or author, I binge-watch or binge-read everything I can get my hands on. Every year, when the MI-5 aka Spooks DVDs become available in America, I buy them and watch the entire season in one sitting. And then I cuss and raise my fists at the TV when the cliffhanger comes at the end of the season and I have to wait another year! Argghhh!

  15. Elyse,
    Your enthusiasm for things that you enjoy is contagious. I read your review and went to my library website and put it on hold. I picked it up Friday. So far, so good.

    • Eddy,

      Thanks so much for saying that. When I come across something good, I like to share because I think that’s what we’re meant to do—share and talk about good stories, whatever form it comes in. Otherwise, stories would die out or only exist in a vacuum.

      I’d love to hear what you think about the book once you finish it.

  16. hello from a swede. about the casting for the movie, charachter-vise; i do think they kind of how you imagine them, especially michael blomqvist is perfect, almost as if stieg wrote the part with actor michael nykvist in mind. a bit naive, but still a driven man with a big heart. noomi as lisbeth is ok, she fulfills the vices of lisbeth sort of, but i do think they could have picked someone with a little more real punky´ness for credibility and not the type of moviestaresque “female beautiful darkhaired actress from the high society of swedish theater. ” there is an expression in sweden, “dramaten-actor” which refers to the highest dramatic institute in sweden, the traditional theatre “dramaten” and the type of actors who end up there ; well-skilled and welltrained, of course, but sort of cliche-looking, wellgrown picturescue traditional moviestar-looking women (with full lips, expressive faces and large hollywood eyes and long flowing hair etc). would like to see lisbeth more realistic, perhaps a little younger actor from the street and not from an institution. still i think she can do the part, at least she looks crazy enough, and full of geist. 🙂

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