Men who hate women—but from a male perspective. At once boring and sensationalist, Larsson has crafted a complicated mystery-thriller that ambitiously takes on the entire spectrum of problematic male gaze. Also: fun, idealistic financial robin-hood-ery.

Author: Stieg Larsson

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Fiction

Link to Goodreads: link

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pierced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Together they tap into a vein of unfathomable iniquity and astonishing corruption.

An international publishing sensation, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo combines murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue into one satisfyingly complex and entertainingly atmospheric novel.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo left me with extremely complicated feelings. On the one hand, it’s an intricate mystery-thriller that scared my admittedly scaredy-cat self shitless. On the other hand, it’s boring. When it wasn’t being cleverly satirical, the white maleness of the novel’s tone is clumsy, annoying, and gratuitous. Part of this tone is certainly a reflection of the book’s publication date; paradoxically, the dated feel of some of the book’s details (i.e., exciting email exchanges and closely narrated google searches) feel charming and quirky.

If Only It Was So!

The Stock Exchange is something very different. There is no economy and no production of goods and services. There are only fantasies in which people from one hour to the next decide that this or that company is worth so many billions, more or less.

So you’re saying that it doesn’t matter if the Stock Exchange drops like a rock?

No, it doesn’t matter at all.

Clearly written before the 2008 financial crisis, the financial pieces of this book are an odd combination of prescient and totally off base. One might even call it naïve; Blomkvist certainly is. However, the novel’s optimistic vitriol towards remorseless billionaires is very fun.

I will continue to hammer how strange the narrator’s voice is—on the one hand, it’s obviously privileged, with loads of social capital and the sense of general comfort and ownership that comes with being a middle-class white male in the mid-2000s. On the other hand, Blomkvist muddles his way through the everyman role, with indignant, idealistic morals that contrast deliciously with Lisbeth’s dark, chaotic character.

Men Who Hate Women

I found myself nodding along whenever the villain of the story was centered: men who hate women (the original title!).

These passages were straightforward and keenly observant. As a woman, I found them gratifying, if absolutely terrifying. This was such a believable enemy (or set of enemies), specifically for Lisbeth, that I never questioned any of the antagonists’ motives.

I generally appreciate Larsson’s writing of the story’s female lead. While Blomkvist’s narrative takes up the bulk of the book, Lisbeth’s sections were explosive, powerful, and believable. Larsson cleverly introduces her as an idealized, mysterious victim character (from an older male’s point of view). Then the reader is thrown completely into her life and her psyche. I loved her, debate on how her autism was written aside. I don’t have any authority with which to speak on how her autism was portrayed.

I generally appreciate Larsson’s writing of the story’s female lead. While Blomkvist’s narrative takes up the bulk of the book, Lisbeth’s sections were explosive, powerful, and believable. Larsson cleverly introduces her as an idealized, mysterious victim character (from an older male’s point of view). Then the reader is thrown completely into her life and her psyche. I loved her, debate on how her autism was written aside. I don’t have any authority with which to speak on how her autism was portrayed.

Smart or overly-ambitious?

Another note on the title, and accusations of misogyny in general: there are many, many moments in this novel that, if you squint a little, do in fact satirize misogyny. It’s clearly the project of the book. Larsson does something extremely clever here: on the one hand, the super super bad guys occupy the absolute extreme of woman-hating. On the other hand, every male character shows an obvious lack of self-awareness of their own misogyny. This is the interesting bit—it’s like a study of the male gaze and its pitfalls at all points on the spectrum.

However, I don’t think it’s all clever satire. The female characters’ attitudes towards sex sometimes feel like a shot in the dark. They always initiate intimacy with Blomkvist—never the other way around—and the only explanation the reader is really given for their advances is that he’s…there? Convenient? And—not awful?

I’m not confident that if any of the men I know read this novel—even the most literary-minded—they’d be able distinguish satire from 2007 normality.

Is it even worth it?

Only patient souls will make it through this one. It’s long and it’s boring.

Seriously—the first third is a daunting slog through so many names and events and timelines and locations you’ll be lucky if you remember half of them. If you are patient, it’s all tied together at the end. But in my opinion, it’s way too much.

Finally, I’m not a fan of Larsson’s style. He’s focused on objective details. He’s dry. His voice is not at all literary. His voice is not even reminiscent of a good nonfiction writer. Instead, his prose feels bare of anything interesting, and stuffed with everything practical. Maybe there was simply too much information to include, but I suspect that’s just his style. It may work for some, but if it’s not your thing after fifty pages…let me tell you from experience—it’s still not your thing after six hundred.

One thought on “Book Review | The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

  1. I love your review. “On the other hand, every male character shows an obvious lack of self-awareness of their own misogyny.”
    I’ve been really interested in reading this book for a while and I finally have a copy. I’m glad to see a review for this that isn’t offended at everything they came across.
    I can’t wait to read it!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s