The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I know I don't normally post reviews on this blog of books I didn't care for, but many people have asked my opinion about the immensely popular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so I thought I would do my best to explain my feelings about it.  Let me also encourage anyone who loved this book to openly disagree with me.  I would love to read comments about why others were enamored with the book and engage in some dialog about this one.  

It took me a while to get around to reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I really, really wanted to like this book. Multiple friends and positive reviews set me up with high expectations for it, but unfortunately it never lived up to those hopes for me - and even setting my preconceived notions aside, in many ways the book fell flat for me.

The story was decent following journalist Mikael Blomkvist whose career spirals downward after he is found guilty of libel. Promised a job and a hefty paycheck, Blomkvist follows the reclusive Henrik Vanger out to his island and accepts the task of searching out the truth behind the disappearance of Henrik's neice forty years earlier. Under the cover story of writing a biography of Henrik and his family, Blomkvist is introduced to the various eccentric characters that comprise the Vanger family. Accompanying him on his sleuthing expedition is a young hacker and talented research assistant named Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth is the titular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and in many ways she steals the show from Blomkvist as the much more intriguing character of the two of them.

I'll admit that the mystery portion of the book was really well done - I liked the puzzles and codes and suspicious characters - but Stieg Larsson takes an exorbitantly long time to get there. The first third (or maybe even half) of the book is devoted to Blomkvist's back story of his libel suit and a very disturbing walk through Salander's past. Knowing that the two characters would eventually intersect was probably the only thing that kept me reading the first portion of the book which alternated between boring details of financial lawsuits and cringe-inducing scenes of sexual assault.

Salander's character is perhaps one of the aspects of this book that seems to garner the most praise, but ultimately she never won me over. Though I found myself feeling sympathy and sadness toward her, some of her actions and unrelenting distrust for authority just frustrated me. Also, I found her relationship with Blomkvist overly contrived and their attachment seemed borne more out of plot convenience than of any real connection in their characters.

Many people have told me that Larsson's Millenium Trilogy only improves as the books go on, but many of these same people raved to me how good Dragon Tattoo was. Filled with a bit too much depravity and with a lack of likeable characters for my taste, I'm not certain that I want to continue the series and overall I'm left a bit baffled at the overwhelming popularity of this book. 
So there you have it.  Not my cup of tea, and hopefully I did an adequate job explaining why.  Did I miss something?  Was this really an excellent book that I'm just gaining an extremely wrong impression of?  Is the second book really immensely better?  Please don't hesitate to share your thoughts!

13 Response to "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

  1. Ellen Stewart (aka Ellie/El/e/Mrs. Seaman) says:
    February 23, 2012 at 2:13 PM

    For my 50th birthday I received many Border's dollars in gift cards. I was very careful when I went to spend them, and I purchased this book. I gave it many a try, but I just couldn't get into it. So many friends said, "When you get to page 120 or so, you'll be hooked."

    I am all about giving a book a chance, but 120 pages?

    I did try a few more times, but eventually gave up. Someone at the Montgomery Goodwill found themselves tickled pink to get this book in great condition for cheap.

    I'm hoping they liked it, even a little bit.

  2. lisa :) says:
    February 23, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    That's similar to what people told me too, but even finishing it, the best parts of the plot didn't really outweigh slogging through the beginning to get there. I partly wish I had just given up on it.

  3. StephanieD says:
    February 23, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    I had to struggle through the first half as well, because of all the finance stuff, which I thought could have been excised. I loved Lisbeth but the graphic violence towards women throughout the book was what kept me from picking up the other two books. I highly recommend the American movie (which tells the boring part in less than 5 minutes, tops).

  4. Greg McConnell says:
    February 23, 2012 at 8:48 PM

    Right now I'm chuckling to myself because I actually just finished the second book about an hour ago. What a coincidence that you would blog about this topic today! :-)

    I think it was last October when I read Dragon Tattoo. The main reason I picked it up was because the movie was coming out in December. I actually was swept up and intrigued by the story right from the opening pages. When I was on about page 150 or 200, a colleague of mine noticed I was carrying this book and noted, "Oh, I hate that book!" I was totally stunned because EVERYONE else that I knew had said they loved it. At that point I just replied that I had been enjoying the book up to whatever page I was on, but I wouldn't be able to give any kind of verdict until after finishing it.

    After I finished Dragon Tattoo, overall I felt it was a bit of a disappointment. I blame this more on the hype than the actual book. The mystery was good, some of the historical notes expanded my horizons, and it did have some surprises, but the characters for me fell flat. I didn't find myself connecting with any of the characters. This is probably because the characters seemed just a little too unrealistic and/or unlikable. The characters were good enough to keep the plot going and things interesting, but there was no deep connection for me. One example of this would be the relationship between Blomkvist and his daughter. The book notes, especially at the end, that Blomkvist was a bad (relatively absent) father. Yet the daughter was still kinda just thrown in as a plot device.

    I wasn't sure if I'd read book #2 and #3, but then I started hearing some people say that the books get better. So I made a mental note to possibly read them sometime down the line. Turns out I was in a hurry at the library last week and The Girl Who Played With Fire caught my eye on the "Most Wanted" shelf. I figured it couldn't hurt, so I gave it a try. Funny enough, I found the first 200 pages to be brutally boring. (I guess now I know how you felt about the first part of Dragon Tattoo! But after about page 200, the mystery is all set up and the fun really begins. I can now see why people say Book #2 is better. Salander's character is further developed, and I found the story to be more entertaining. Book #2 is funnier, too. However, by no means would I recommend Book #2 to anyone who disliked Book #1.

    I still haven't seen the movie. I'll likely wait until I finish the third book, which may or may not happen this year. I plan to read many other books before I get to it.

  5. Kate {The Parchment Girl} says:
    February 23, 2012 at 9:13 PM

    I haven't read this one yet, but I really want to since everyone seems to be talking about it. I'm hoping to get to it by this summer at least. Some people hated it, some people loved it, and my curiosity is building. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  6. melissa @ 1lbr says:
    February 24, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    After reading summaries and a few spoiler-y reviews, I figured this one was not for me and I haven't read it. Not planning to either. Glad to read more reasons why the book's not for me.

  7. Man of la Book says:
    February 26, 2012 at 6:14 AM

    I liked this book (http://manoflabook.com/wp/?p=20) didn't think it was as great as others said, but not as bad either (the second one I didn't care for much).

    It might not be your cup of tea, but is it your cup of coffee?
    Did you notice the massive amounts of coffee that is drunk during that book - every page.

  8. curlygeek04 says:
    February 26, 2012 at 7:35 AM

    I'm one of the few people I know who couldn't get through the book. The first half was as you describe -- some of it boring, and then a sexual assault that made it hard to keep reading. In the end this book just didn't seem worth it to me, but I know people loved it.

  9. Bakes2000 Says:
    February 28, 2012 at 6:11 AM

    Glad to hear you didn't like it. When did this become mainstream writing, and become considered entertaining? I'm glad I'm old and from a kinder, gentler age!

  10. Shalet Jimmy says:
    February 29, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    Confusion...I wanted to read this book and watch the movies. Many a times I have come across this book in various book shops. But I could not buy it for some reason or the other....There are many responses here.I think, rather than buying this book I should go for the movie....right?

  11. Lesa says:
    March 8, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    I've never been inclined to read this because it just doesn't interest me but I am intrigued by the dichotomy of opinions. Actually, I'm glad to discover there is a dichotomy of opinion-- too much universal raving is unnatural, don't you think? Makes me suspicious anyway.

    :o)

  12. Katie Says:
    November 1, 2012 at 2:32 AM

    I read this book last year and your take on it is interesting. It was hard to stomach in some areas, but I still liked the strong female character. There are so few books written with that in mind and feeling like I need to try this genre again, I picked up That Girl Started Her Own Country by Holy Ghost Writer. Have you read it? It is along the similar style of spy, mystery, thriller and with a powerful female lead but without all of the negative issues listed above that you find with the Dragon Tattoo. I liked it and thought it was worth mentioning.

  13. Latoya says:
    November 12, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    Why isn't That Girl Started Her Own Country by Holy Ghost Writer being featured in the same manner. The strong female lead and the page turning burn through the pages and scream that a movie should be made. I think that this mystery thriller would be good on the big screen. That's just one reader's opinion, but I like to feel like I'm in a movie when I read a book, not just that words are sprawled on a page. That Girl Started Her Own Country does just that. Good read!

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