Being brutally honest about books

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium #1) by Stieg Larsson

Date finished: 7 April 2015

Swedish crime novels are not something I have much experience with, but I very much enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I didn’t intend to read it when I did, I just happened to see it in my school library and decide to give it a go. I thought it might be a bit violent and have more adult themes than I’d be comfortable with, but that isn’t the case. Clearly this is not for a younger audience and I wouldn’t want to know about kids under 16 reading it, but I didn’t find it as gruesome as I’d expected.

The writing style is quite difficult to read, enough that I struggled to get into the book at first, but after a while I got used to it. The writing is complicated and confusing to begin with, but after a few chapters I got the hang of it and found myself captivated. Even if the style is heavy and makes this book hard to read – it took me a week to get through, and not only because the book is 533 pages long – the story itself is so gripping that it’s unputdownable.

The plot is unlike anything I’ve read before. There are lots of twists and turns; just when one thing gets solved, something else happens to complicate it even more. The storyline is very original, even though from the blurb it sounds like just another unwilling-male-ends-up-solving-crime-with-female-sidekick plot. The crime the protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist is hired to solve, the disappearance/murder of Harriet Vanger forty years ago, ends up much bigger than the characters or you as the reader expect, and solving it is an epic adventure in itself. Then there’s the other storyline about his rival and how Blomkvist triumphs in the end (I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it is a great victory).

The characters are fascinating, especially Lisbeth Salander, who is a very flawed and unusual character. At first I only liked her because she’s one of the main female characters, but she grew on me, especially since she gets wicked revenge on Bjurman, her rapist, but also because she gets just as involved in investigating the crime as Blomkvist. I think she’s the most original part of the book, she’s just that interesting. I especially like her character growth – she warms to Blomkvist during the novel, especially at the end (but that would be spoilers!) without losing her edge. She’s not your usual heroine, which is what I love about her.

I also liked Blomkvist, the protagonist. He’s a fleshed out, realistic character whose past is not that of your usual hero – it’s neither overly shadowed nor ridiculously innocent – but he’s still likeable because he has his own reasons for doing things but also has a moral code. Even though he’s a forty-something financial journalist, I was able to relate to him more than Salander, the young hacker who hates and distrusts everyone.

The main setting, Sweden, was new to me, and therefore refreshing. However, some cultural things got in the way of my reading, such as the currency – I had no idea how much a million kronor is, for example – and place names I couldn’t pronounce. Normal things like this took away from my enjoyment of the novel, as they were just too foreign.

There are some mature and/or disturbing themes in this book, such as misogyny, polyamory, rape, and sadism. These things aren’t generally all included in the same book, but they provide the basis of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and give it depth and darkness. I feel that the school library should probably have put a stamp inside the cover, warning that it’s suitable for a more mature audience. Just because I was fine with reading about these things, doesn’t mean other people my age or younger would be.

Although this book didn’t immediately hook me, after persevering I just had to finish it, and I appreciated the rollercoaster it took me on. If you want something dark and original to read, I would recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’ve never read anything like it, but I enjoyed it enough to want to read the next book in the series now.
I'm Alexandria, a 19-year-old reader/writer/blogger from New Zealand. I love language, history, and sci-fi. Hi! I'm always around if you want to talk, which you can do via comments, the contact form, or Facebook.

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