Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson OR Why You Should Always Read The Story BEHIND A Book

Since I seem to have a knack for reading books 57 years after everybody else (see my Hunger Games review here), you’re all just going to have to bear with me as I once again prattle on about a book you’ve already read.

From Amazon – Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family. He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.

Not since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two has a book caused such a row in the Whitehead household (yes, that was only last week. What can I say, we’re just not good at domestic bliss). The Boy-Whom-I-Sometimes-Love-When-He’s-Not-Being-Silly-About-Books believes that the entire point of Lisbeth Salander’s existence is to use violent sex and shock value to sell more books, when the main plotline (the investigation behind Harriet’s disappearance) would be enough to sustain a reader’s interest on its own.

To be fair, I can see his point. There is a lot of brutal violence in this book, and you have to wonder if it’s all necessary. Unlike The Boy though, I do think Lisbeth is necessary to the plot due to her contributions to the investigation, but perhaps the horrific depictions of her past really aren’t. It does annoy me when authors try to shock their audience just to sell more books.

This morning though, I read an article about the history of the book which claimed that it was originally going to be called Men Who Hate Women. Suddenly Salander’s existence makes a lot more sense. The original concept of the book wasn’t just the investigation behind Harriet’s disappearance, it was about the rape and mutilation of women in general. It’s like a light-bulb has just suddenly flashed cartoon-like above my head – I get it now.

My boyfriend’s argument was that the author wouldn’t give the book the title The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, unless he specifically wanted to draw your attention to the unnecessary plot-device that is Lisbeth.. Fair point. But now I know that the original title wasn’t about her, I’m feeling a lot more amicable towards Stieg Larsson (who actually died before he knew of his books’ success). Apparently he witnessed the gang rape of a young girl called Lisbeth when he was a teenager, and his regret of failing to help her led to his writing the Milennium trilogy to bring attention to the amount of unreported abuse in Sweden. Suddenly the Swedish rape statistics interjected between chapters make more sense.

That same article deems the book as ‘feminist.’ Uhh… what? Featuring a bi-sexual woman who has short hair and wields a deranged form of vigilante justice doesn’t make a book feminist. I don’t think it’s misogynistic either though, as another article states. It’s just a story, people. I particularly liked the Guardian’s take on it, in this article –  The message I took from it was that gender is irrelevant. We behave the way we do because of our individual characters and personal histories. In Larsson’s world, it’s the psychopaths who split the world along gender lines.’

But hey, gender-related discussion aside… the book’s alright, I suppose. I enjoyed the main investigation – certain aspects of the road to finding Harriett were very cleverly thought out and it’s easy to see to see the amount of research and effort that went into writing it. To be honest though, I’m not entirely sure it deserves the hype. It’s very, very long-winded and it’s a good third of the book before the story really gets going. I’m glad I’ve read it, but I don’t really feel all that enriched for having done so.

Well. That was a very domestic review, wasn’t it?


  1. Belle says:

    Great review! I think I'm the only person left in the world now who hasn't read this. My Fiance loved the series, but he said it gets better after the first book. 🙂

  2. Bex says:

    I liked the first book, but I did like the second and third more. I didn't know about the title change, though and that does change my view of it a bit I think. I'll need to mention that to my sister, as she and I have had arguments very similar to yours about it!

    Because of the violence, i'm not too sure if I want to watch the film, and i'm even less sure about the Daniel Craig remake… :-/

  3. Wow. That does help make a lot of sense of the books. Have you read the other two books yet? Book one is sort of the background information you need for the second and third. Great review.


  4. Jillian says:

    The first book's a bit overrated in my opinion, but the second book I thought was a lot better!

  5. Hanna says:

    @Bex – Believe it or not, the film isn't too violent. I mean, there are some bits obviously, but not as bad as you'd expect. But don't get me started on the Daniel Craig remake – if you're too dim to understand subtitles, you're too dim for the film. Period. And they've made it look like an action film on the trailer, which it quite clearly isn't.

    @Kristin – I haven't, not yet. I own the second one, but I'm still waiting for the third to roll up for 50p at a carboot sale (like the others did!).

    @Jillian – That was my opinion too – the first tag I used for this one was 'over-rated!' It seems to be the general consensus that the rest of the trilogy is better, so I'm going to keep ploughing on.

  6. Great review! I read this, and as horrible as it was, I did like it. My aunt and I were talking about it – being the only two in my family that have read it. We liked the mystery part, even though it was slow to kick in, but the whole rape-abuse part: *shudder*.
    I'll have to read on too, and will therefore "steal" the books from my aunt (borrow).
    Great review (I know I said that once, but it really was so I felt I ought to say it again!)! 😀

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