Monday, January 2, 2012

Book Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

There is a movie called Finding Forrester, in which a young African American teenager befriends a recluse Pulitzer Prize winning author (Forrester), who becomes his writing mentor while he exposes the hermit to the outside world.  Starring Sean Connery and F. Murray Abraham, the film is quite exceptional and I highly recommend it.  The reason I bring this up in my review about the first book of Steig Larrson's trilogy is that the author, Forrester, only wrote one book in the course of his life and that book happened to be one of the most brilliant books of his generation.  When I read that Mr. Larrson had passed away shortly after he turned in the manuscripts for his trilogy, I was reminded of that movie.  As I understand it he was a magazine editor, but had published no other novels.

As I reflect on the strong and weak points of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I am hard pressed to find a good place to start.  I picked up the book because I saw the preview for the upcoming movie based on it and thought that it looked interesting.  Since I do not like seeing movies based on books without actually reading the book itself, I decided to read it.  I knew from the movie previews that it was to be very dark and disturbing, but as it turns I out I had no idea what I was in for.

The book chronicles the story of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander who through an extremely bizarre turn of events end up working together to solve a 36 year old mystery about the disappearance of a teenage girl from a prominent Swedish family in 1966.  It also documents how they teamed up to expose and tear down a corrupt Swedish businessman who had gotten away with a laundry list of crimes for many years.  Blomkvist is a magazine writer and  publisher, which is interesting as Larrson held a very similar role himself.  That being the case, it made the story much more informative and, for lack of a better term, believable.  What I mean is that Larrson did not have to create any false scenarios or things of that nature when describing Blomkvist's work because he had first hand knowledge of it himself.

Perhaps the weakest part of the books is that it does get rather slow in some places.  As a magazine publisher himself, Larrson at times found it difficult not to give erroneous or overly detailed explanations of certain journalistic rules or processes.  The easiest comparison I can make is to Herman Melville's similar seemingly useless and dry descriptions of whaling vessels and whaling in Moby Dick.  Strangely enough, both authors never lived to see their books succeed, Larrson having died before his books were published and Moby Dick not gaining notoriety until long after its original publication and Melville's death.

The overwhelming journalistic descriptions aside, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is one of the most riveting and thrilling page-turners I have ever had the pleasure to read.  In addition, though, it is without a doubt the most disturbing book I have ever read.  Readers who cannot stomach the television series Criminal Minds would not like this book.  The villains in this novel are ruthless, demented, sick, insane, and so incredibly vile that no amount of effort to describe them would bring a someone who has not read the book to understand just how evil they are.  There were times I had to put the book down and collect myself because the material was too disturbing.  However, I could not be away from it for too long before I picked up again because I needed to know what happened next.

All this being said, I am quite excited to see the movie and have already bought the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire.  I know full well going into seeing the movie that it will not be as disturbing as the book; the material in the book would never be able to be put on screen the way it is written, at least so that it could be marketed to a general audience.  I also know that I will now not like the movie as much as I would had I seen it before I read the book; but it was the movie that led me to the book so perhaps it will not be so terrible.  I also look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.  I highly recommend the books to anyone who likes mysteries and psychological thrillers.

Move review to follow when I see it.


  1. You've officially convinced me to read the book. Though since I just finished reading "Hunger Games," is it sad that when you mentioned "The Girl Who Played with Fire," I first thought of Katniss?

  2. Lol, there is a book called The Girl Who Was on Fire, and it's kind of a companion to the Hunger Games trilogy.