The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

Hey everybody. Remember this one? You know, the Swedish thriller? It was kind of a big deal for a while there. Big international smash hit, a whole trilogy. They made a couple movies, one Swedish (well-acted, but repulsive) one American (didn’t see it, despite being tempted due to David Fincher’s involvement).

I never got around to reading the book, despite it’s unavoidably. Probably actually because of its unavoidably. I was working in a library at the time, and I saw the kind of crowd that was going nuts over it. Mostly middle-aged ladies, you know, the mystery and thriller junkies who go through a stack of crappy books every week. Anyway, I saw the crowd it seemed to be picking up and decided that it wasn’t for me. Was this unfair of me? Perhaps. But hey, there are a heck of a lot of books out there and I don’t have time to read them all. I just couldn’t get over the fact that this book with a so-called alternative protagonist who was “just sooo interesting” was being embraced by a bunch of stuffy church ladies. How alternative could it really be?

Anyway, the years go by. As they do. And here were are today. Apparently, the series is being brought back (Stieg Larsson himself passed away not long after writing the first three books) by some cheap hack. Never let a profitable product languish for too long, that’s my motto! Fortunately, Larsson himself was a bit of a cheap hack novelist, so at least this newest addition to the “Girl With/Who” cannon should fit right in.

Anyway anyway. To celebrate this necromantic bastardization, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – the little book that started it all – is back on the supermarket and drug store paperback shelves once again. And thus, it comes into my hands. Aching for reading material to pass the slow night hours, and presented with the choice between this and the last five flaccid turds to slither out James Patterson’s prolapsed anus, I decided that it might be time to give the book a chance. How bad could it be?

Eh… It wasn’t too terrible…

Okay folks, there you go! Review done. And how! Please come again, and don’t forget to tip your server.

Okay okay. Sheesh. Where to start? First off, it must be said right away that this is a motherflipping monster of a book. The paperback I read was pushing 600 pages. 600 pages!? I thought this thing was supposed to be a thriller? Who edited this piece of crap, George R. R. Martin and the Sanderson-puppeted corpse of Robert Jordan? Seriously, this thing is turgid and lugubrious as all hell. Every scene has about ten times the necessary amount of information.

There’s this thing in film-making, an editing technique. Early, clumsy films tended to show everything in detail, to document an action from start to finish. Then some clever soul happened upon a simple truism: people will fill in the blanks themselves. You don’t have to show the man get out of his chair, walk across the room, fetch his car keys, put on his coat and hat, check to make sure the stove is off, walk out the door, walk to his car, get in his car, turn the key and drive away. You don’t need to do that! Just show us the man deciding to leave and cut to the car pulling out of the driveway. We don’t need to see every step, we just need enough to connect the dots. Sadly, Larsson doesn’t seem to have picked up on this particular lesson, which applies to all forms of narrative as well as film. You could have cut a solid two hundred pages from this things just by striping out the unnecessary crap. We get to read about people’s mundane days in excruciating detail. It’s tedious and pointless. Like, we get it already.

Okay, so you probably already know the basic story of Dragon Tattoo, but I’ll give ya the recap for form’s sake. So there’s this disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist. He’s hired by an old man to investigate a decades old crime. And there’s also this weird hacker chick – the titular girl – who kinda… bobs around on her own for awhile. Eventually the two of them meet up and solve the crime!

Okay then, all well and good. Except not really. Right off the bat there are several enormous missteps derailing this so-called thriller.

Firstly, the entire structure is fucked. Larsson opts for a bizarre nesting-doll plot, settling the mystery which occupies the majority of his reader’s time and attention within a peripheral plot about Blomkvist‘s investigation of the financial wrongdoing which landed him in trouble. The two seem destined to intersect, with several characters hinting at the possibility, but near the end of the book Larsson seems the shrug it off. Nope, he says, they actually don’t have anything to do with one another. So, the first and last eighths of the book are a completely separate story. The effect this has is that the book seems to take forever to actually get going, and then seems to drag on long after its natural ending. It’s just bad. The whole Wennerström affair should have been a separate novel, instead it feels glossed over and parenthetical.

Secondly, and far more problematically, the book is populated exclusively by cartoon characters rather than actual people. Now I see why this one is a hit with the church ladies. For all the talk of moral ambiguity or complexity, every character here is paper thin with the possible exception of the titular girl. Blomkvist is a total Mary Sue, embarrassingly so. He’s the best journalist, the best investigator, the most morally unshakable, the dude who all the ladies slobber over. He uncovers not just a case of financial wrongdoing, but the biggest baddest scandal of all time, and he just it immediately after confronting and defeating a brutal serial killer. He’s Woodward and Bernstein by way of Casanova, and he’s never wrong. This guy should start a club with Edward Cullen. Of course, Girl is actually a lot worse than Twilight in this regard, since Meyer was as least creating someone else to fantasize about, whereas Larsson is literally just whacking himself off in your fucking face for 600 pages.

The bad guys are even worse. They the most ridiculous assortment of mustache-twirlers you’ve ever seen. It’s not enough to be a corrupt financier, you also have to be an abusive shithead with ties to child prostitution. It’s not enough to have murdered your sister, you’ve got to be the most infamous serial murder in history. It’s not enough to be an abusive creep taking advantage of people, you’ve got to have a mini rape-dungeon. It’s just silly, and it obliterates all of the noble points Larsson seemed to be trying to make about misogyny and rape culture. Seriously. You know what’s scary about rape culture? It doesn’t take a villain with a torture basement. Rape culture is perpetuated by so-called normal people. That’s why it’s a problem.


Okay then. What do we have so far? Crappy convoluted plotting, phoney cardboard characters… Did I mention that the prose and dialogue absolute suck? Because they really really do. Who knows though, that could just be because of the translation, so I won’t pin that one on Larsson. The big stuff, though… that’s on him.

This book is turgid and ridiculous and largely incident free. There were moments of interest and excitement, but not nearly enough the sustain the book for the entirety of its grotesque length. If you’ve somehow gone this long without having picked it up, I would recommend that you continue to avoid it.


I don’t know if you got it or not, but there was a subtle pun you may have missed. Remember when I said “tip your server” up above? You know, like a comedian might say after their set or something like that? Since we’re on the internet, the pun is that you should tip your server. Like an internet server?

Is that funny?

Shit, that’s not funny at all. Goddamn it.

Okay, forget I said anything. You didn’t read this post script. In fact, you didn’t read any of this! Go away, for god’s sake! Go! Goodbye!


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