Tuesday, August 05, 2008


In Stieg Larssson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland,  Mikael Blomkvist has been convicted of libelling billionaire financier Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, and his magazine Millenium is struggling to stay afloat.

Lisbeth Salander is a difficult young woman with rare gifts who earns a living working for Dragan Armansky's investigative agency. She is pierced, tattooed, sometimes violent, socially inadequate and protected as a ward of court by Sweden's guardianship laws. 

When Henrik Vanger, elderly CEO of the Vanger Corporation, revives the hunt for his niece Harriet who disappeared 40 years ago from secluded Hedeby Island he asks Mikael to leave Milennium in the hands of his partner and  part time lover Erika Berger and investigate the eccentric Vanger family. 

Mikael will eventually team up with Lisbeth to uncover some very nasty secrets and an appalling family history.

You can read two excellent reviews of this book by very knowledgeable bloggers here and here.

I am still confused by my reaction to this book which has received both critical praise and been the beneficiary of an impressive marketing campaign. It seems that virtually everyone in Sweden  has read the book and here the price has been heavily discounted by both Amazon and Sainsbury, with the result that it is the number one paperback best seller in Sainsbury's Exeter Pinhoe branch.
But interestingly The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo failed to win the CWA Duncan Lawrie International Dagger when the clear favourite being beaten by the Lorraine Connection written by Dominique Manotti which I reviewed here

I must admit I find it difficult to be critical of an author who worked so hard against racism, violence against women and right wing extremism and who died so tragically young but to be honest I was slightly disappointed by the book. Of course after all the ballyhoo and build up perhaps this was inevitable.

Large parts of the first half of the book are very turgid and reading it is like struggling through a deep snowdrift. We are presented with large amount of information about the various members of the Vanger family who are card board cut out stereotypes with for example the Nazi lunatic, the spoilt rich bitch, the kind elderly uncle, the loyal family lawyer and so on. 
Stieg Larsson takes fifty pages to give us information that more experienced authors would cover in one or two paragraphs. He revels in petty detail and description of financial dealings. We are told over and over by the each of extended Vanger clan that poor old Henrik is obsessed with finding Harriet's murderer. 
The mystery is not that mysterious as we can work out the solution quite early in the proceedings as Mikael delves into the photographic evidence from the day of the disappearance which was also  the day of an accident on the bridge isolating the island from the town of Hedestad. You did not need to be a super detective to know what is going on when the Swedish title is translated as Men Who Hate Women.

I am used to reading Swedish crime fiction with the slow detailed build ups and the systematic police procedural investigations but this novel took it to an extreme.

There was an excellent 400 page novel in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and it is a pity that no one dissected it out from the all the padding and extraneous detail. Stieg Larsson appeared to want to attack too many targets in one book, financial journalists, fascists, violent men, the wealthy and that lead to what was in my opinion the excessive length of the book.

Then why despite all my reservations did I finish reading this book with a feeling that I had enjoyed it and that I wanted to read the next book in the series The Girl Who Played With Fire. 
Well the book did improve as it went along and Stieg Larsson for all my criticisms created in Lisbeth Salander one of the most interesting characters in modern crime fiction.
Lisbeth Salander the tattooed pierced truculent computer expert, who rides a motor bike, lives among chaos and is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. 
She is the reason I left feeling I had enjoyed this book and that I will return to this series to see how she copes with life's vicissitudes.

'......introverted, socially inhibited, lacking in empathy, ego-fixated, psychopathic and asocial behaviour.............."

'You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see that these events were somehow were related. There had to be a skeleton in one of their cupboards, and Salander loved hunting skeletons.'..............

'She went into the living room and found an anorexically thin girl sitting on the sofa, wearing a worn jacket and with her feet propped up on the coffee table. At first she thought she was about fifteen, but that was before she looked into her eyes.' 

The Girl Who Played With Fire is due to be published in English in January 2009. 


Blogger Kerrie said...

I loved your review and am fascinated that we all approach the "task" of writing a review differently and decide to include different content. Between us I hope we have convinced those who haven't yet read it that this is a book worth reading. I've seen a figure of 5 million sales quoted. I agree with you about the editing though. Do you think, had Larsson lived, that perhaps the book might have been trimmed down?

5:45 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks very much Kerrie.
You may find my approach to a review is different because frankly I really don't know what I am doing. Most of the other bloggers I have met earn their livings as editors or associated with books and have qualifications in English and journalism therefore I get a real high when one of my very amateur reviews works.

I do think that if Larsson had had the time to sit down with his editors the book would have been at least a 100 pages shorter.

1:36 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Well, the sequels (I've read them in a different translation) are all about Lisbeth, so you should enjoy them a little more. And don't panic about the film just yet - I know Rapace looks 'wrong', but she is a genuinely good actress, and the director has a lot of experience with superb Danish crime television.

Oh, and "Tattoo" is on heavy discount in Edinburgh Tesco Metro at the moment as well. Maybe it'll be a hit among Festival-goers.

More generally, it's interesting how people react differently to books. I read unbelievably quickly (professionally useful, but a nuisance given the rate I go through fiction), so I'm never much fussed by length, and indeed tend to prefer it. (As a teenager, I was happiest lugging around War and Peace, since I knew I wouldn't finish it on the bus and be left with nothin to read.)

Anyway, in Larsson's case I quite liked the slowness/repetition, because it reminded me of how people think and act in the 'off-the-page' world. (And admittedly at my reading speed it wasn't very slow.) Often in crime fiction I find the speed at which things are resolved very unsatisfactory, or at least somewhat unrealistic - but I realise this is a personal preference. I'm fairly wordy myself, as this comment proves, so I have a knee-jerk fondness for length.

Reviewing is a very personal form of writing, really, no matter how hard one might try to look for objective merit/problems. I loved the genuine anger and emotion that permeates Larsson's books, and his range of characters and their attitudes, if not their professions! (particularly in books two and three) reflects the variety of people I know rather better than many other authors. Someone else could well feel differently!

For what it's worth, in comparative review terms:

*I think the Lorraine Connection is similarly hard-hitting, and better edited...but I didn't find anything particularly new in its political content, whereas I did in the Larsson.

*The Theorin you've so recently praised elsewhere reminded me of several Ingmar Bergmann films I've seen (and I do rather like *some* Bergmann) - beautifully written and constructed, but when I closed the book I couldn't help wondering what the point was.

But life would be very dull indeed if we all agreed! And I do enjoy reading other options.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks for you comments Lauren and the information about the sequels; I will definitely read them.

Perhaps my identification with the character of the elderly Gerlof Davidsson was a factor in my appreciation of the Theorin. I thought the way that story was constructed and resolved was brilliant.

I am a Jo Nesbo fan so I certainly don't mind long books it was just that I just found the Vangers a little bit predictable.
I used to walk around with a copy of C.V.Wedgwood's The Thirty Years War instead of reading my A level textbooks! But my reading speed has reduced over the years although I seem to have read an enormous number of books this year.

It would indeed be very boring if we all liked the same authors.

12:33 PM  
Anonymous Knopf Marketing said...

Dear fellow Stieg Larsson fan,

We’re trying something new for the launch of the second book in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.
Run your own Stieg Larsson contest on your blog—for which we will provide the prizes (a free copy of The Girl Who Played with Fire, cool temporary dragon tattoos). The first thirty (30) entrants will get first dibs of the translated manuscript of book three. Below you’ll find the complete rules and regulations.

Click here http://knopfdoubleday.com/blogger-contest-stieg-larsson for contest entry

Visit the Stieg Larsson site http://stieglarsson.net/ for more info

Friend http://www.facebook.com/salander1Lisbeth on Facebook

Follow http://twitter.com/aaknopf us on Twitter

The first 250 bloggers to enter their information (name, blog name, blog URL mailing address, and daytime phone number) will obtain the giveaway material (one (1) copy of The Girl who Played with Fire and a batch of temporary tattoos) to host a sweepstakes on their blog. The first 30 bloggers to enter will also receive (1) copy of the manuscript of the third Stieg Larsson thriller at the time of its in-house release. All applications to participate will have to be received by 11:59 pm (Eastern Daylight Time) on August 15, 2009. U.S. Residents only. Bloggers are solely responsible for the administration of the sweepstakes on their blogs.

The A.A. Knopf Marketing Team

7:38 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home