August 22, 2009

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland
2008 Knopf
Finished on 8/16/09
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Product Description

A sensation across Europe—millions of copies sold.

A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue.

It’s about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden . . . and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.

It’s about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance . . . and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age—and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it—who assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism—and an unexpected connection between themselves.

It’s a contagiously exciting, stunningly intelligent novel about society at its most hidden, and about the intimate lives of a brilliantly realized cast of characters, all of them forced to face the darker aspects of their world and of their own lives.

One of the things I love about book clubs (in addition to all the great food, wine and conversation) is that I am encouraged to read books I may not have otherwise picked up on my own. Such was the case with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When it first came out in hardcover, I barely gave it a second look. But August was the month for our mystery selection and Larsson's thriller won the vote by a wide margin.

I don't read a lot of mysteries, but after thoroughly enjoying Tana French's In the Woods and The Likeness, I was ready to give this Swedish author a try. I picked it up toward the end of July and didn't finish until mid-August. This is quite a chunkster!! The mass market is 644 pages in length. And, this was definitely not the sort to grab me from the first page. I struggled with the first 60 pages or so, trying to sort through the various secondary characters (there's a family tree at the beginning of the book, which helped as I got further into the story), as well as the setting and background information. I know nothing about Sweden, so I had no point of reference when trying to envision a certain location or public figure or historical reference.

I really was ready to skip this book, in spite of the fact that it was for book club (and I was hosting). Thanks to a bunch of comments here, I decided to keep plugging along. Once the main characters and main plot were established, I was quickly sucked into the mystery and couldn't put the book down, anxious to get home from work so I could resume reading. My book is littered with sticky notes, not to mark lyrical passages, but rather key points and hints that might help me solve the murder mystery. I followed all the red herrings, suspecting all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons.

While discussing the book with my book club (every member of which, by the way, liked the book -- those who hadn't finished still planned to keep reading even though the ending was discussed), I said it reminded me a little bit of The Silence of the Lambs. I hadn't even read the back cover of the book until today and discovered the following quote from USA Today:

"Mesmerizing... Imagine the movies of Ingmar Bergman crossed with Thomas Harris's novel The Silence of the Lambs."

Well, there you go.

I don't know if I'd go as far as saying this was a good as Tana French's mysteries, but it was definitely entertaining. So much so that I plan to read The Girl Who Played with Fire. Maybe I won't have such a tough time getting interested in it since it's the second in the trilogy. And don't you just love the title for the third installment -- The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. Yep, that certainly sounds like Lisbeth Salander.

And, yes, there's a movie! You can view the trailer here and a slide show of photos here. There's no release date for the United States, but I've got it saved on Netflix. Hopefully, now that the books are gaining popularity in the U.S., the movie will become available, as well.

Of all the covers I discovered online, this one (from the UK) is my favorite. I love that red comforter!

About the Author

Stieg Larsson, who lived in Sweden, was the editor in chief of the magazine Expo and a leading expert on antidemocratic right-wing extremist and Nazi organizations. He died in 2004, shortly after delivering the manuscript for this and two subsequent novels.

Editorial Update:

I received a nice comment from Reg Keeland (Larsson's translator for the trilogy). He has translated the two maps of Hedeby Island (which were in the original Swedish edition of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and is happy to send them to any interested reader. Please visit Reg's blog for background information on Larsson's novels. Thanks, Reg! Very nice blog.


  1. Anonymous6:04 PM

    We are discussing this book for my mystery book group this Monday evening. I had to postpone our group reading it as the hold list was too long in April, my originally scheduled date. I really, really liked it. I read it on my Kindle and just got sucked in right away. I didn't mind the convoluted family dynamics and all that. I did have a problem seeing the family tree on the screen. Anyway, I jumped right in to next book in the series and am about 20% through it. I think our group will like it overall. Some may have found it a little graphic for them, but I felt it was a definite page-turner. Glad you decided to try it, Les.

  2. Anonymous7:40 PM

    I gave up waiting for this to appear from the Hold Shelf in my local library and bought the copy pictured in the top left of your post. (The last photograph is by far the most enticing, though!) I've wanted to read this for quite awhile, being an avid fan of thrillers (and quite bored with all the YA books I've somehow been caught up in agreeing to review: ick!). I'll get back to you when I finally have a chance to read it...should be around February or so. ;)

  3. I have been pondering reading this for a long, long time -- seeing a huge stack at Costco, but there was something about it that made me wary. Part of it was as you said, being unfamiliar with Sweden. I also have a difficult time with books translated from another language, wondering if the true essence of the book will come through. Your review has made me decide to take another look. Well done.

  4. I actually plan to read this. :) Not my normal type of read, but it has got really good reviews, so I decided to take a chance on it.

  5. Kay - I really, really liked it, too. I don't think I'd go so far as to say I loved it, though. Had I got sucked in from the get-go, I think it'd be high on my list for the year, but the slow beginning and parts about Wennerstrom were just a bit too dry for me to give it a higher rating. I'll be interested to hear how your book group likes it. We had a small meeting for this book - just six of us (and one hadn't read the book at all - just invited to see if she might like to join the group). Interesting that the family tree was difficult to see on the Kindle. I wonder how they handle books with lots of graphics. You'll have to let me know how the 2nd book compares to the 1st.

    Bellezza - Oh, you should have held off! I could've sent you my copy once Rod reads it. I can't wait to hear what you think of the book. It's a bit gritty in spots...

    Maudeen - If you like, I can send you my copy once Rod finishes with it. Let me know. I'd be more than happy to send it your way.

    Kailana - Funny how so many of us have said it wasn't something we really were interested in, but decided to give it chance after all. Nothing like "word-of-mouth" to helps these authors along, right? It's just such a shame this author didn't live long enough to see how many people have fallen in love with his books and characters.

  6. Reading your review has convinced me to give this book a shot!

  7. Nice to see you all reading Tattoo. For some unknown reason both the UK and US publishers left out the two maps of Hedeby Island provided in the Swedish edition, which really help in following the story. I have translated them and done a little paste-up and will send copies to anyone who sends me an SASE. Write me at bloozshooz at gmail dot com for the mailing address. Also check my blog for some background info, and comments are always welcome.

  8. Reg - Thanks so much for the comment! I've added a link to your blog at the top of the review, as well as in an editorial update at the end of my post. I will be in touch, as I'd like to get a copy of the maps for my book group. We've already discussed Larrson's wonderful book, but I know everyone would still enjoy seeing the maps at our next meeting.

    Take care.

  9. I finally broke down and bought this Saturday. I had been digging my heels in about reading it, worried that it was being over-hyped, but, as I value YOUR opinion, I'll probalby get to it sooner rather than later. :)

  10. OK, you've convinced me to pick this book up (when, I'm not sure, but if you say it's a worthwhile read then that's all I need to know)! :)

  11. Lots of Swedish books in the news now, and that's great. My only concern is I've never quite enjoyed translations. How about Henning Mankell? Did you watch the Wallander series on PBS?

  12. Staci - Glad to help! :)

    Heather - I was a little concerned about the "hypness" of this thriller, but I think it's worthy of all the praise. Just don't get discouraged by all the details in the opening chapters. They all become clear very quickly. And you'll love Lisbeth! What a gutsy character.

    Stephanie - Well, you are my reading twin, after all. Hope you like it!

    Nan - You know, I really didn't stop and think about the translation once! There were times when I was a little lost with regards to the geography (should've Googled Sweden!), and I wasn't sure if public figures were real or fictional, but in the long run, that really doesn't matter.

    I haven't read Mankell, although I think my step-dad was reading one when we were visiting last month. And, no, I haven't watched Wallander. I should probably put it in my Netflix queue.

  13. A lot of the public figures in the book are real, including one Swedish honcho who also sat on the board of GM and helped bankrupt the company. I saw a great article from a paper in Detroit on that -- fascinating.

    Les, read Faceless Killers by Mankell, the first and I think the best, and least gruesome, of them all. Done by yours truly under my real name.

  14. Reg - Thanks for the information! I thumbed through Faceless Killers at work yesterday (I work at B&N) and it looks like something I'd really enjoy. We're getting ready to set a new mystery display and I was pleasantly surprised to see so many Swedish authors. I wonder if Larsson's books have generated more interest, or if I'm just more aware than I was before I read TGWTDT.

    I'll be sure to email you if I have any questions about the remaining books in Larsson's trilogy (and the Mankell book), if that's alright with you. :) Meanwhile, I have your blog bookmarked.

    Thanks again, Reg!

  15. Les, click on the links on the right to see the other Nordic crime that my wife Tiina Nunnally and I have translate. We welcome all the shelf space we can get, though we don't get royalties on every book. After Faceless Killers, read Sidetracked and The Fifth Woman if you can stand a little gore.

  16. Great to see you thought this was very good. It's on my TBR Shelf - waiting!

  17. Reg - Thanks again. I really don't mind gore, so it's highly likely I'll continue with Sidetracked and The Fifth Woman.

    Joy - I wonder what you'll think of this book. My husband's reading it right now. Like me, it took him a while to get interested. Now he's hooked.

  18. I came to track this post down and read what you wrote. :) Like you, the beginning was a tad bit difficult to sink one's teeth into, but soon enough I became engrossed, too. I thought the family tree was invaluable and would have been lost without it. My husband grabbed this one off our shelf before I could protest and he liked it as well. I hope to get to the second before he does. :)

  19. Joy - I agree. That family tree was so helpful. I flipped back and forth to it dozens of times!

    You'll probably read the second before I get around to it. I'll be anxious to hear what you think. My husband gave up on it. :( Maybe I'll listen to it on audio...


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