Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Book & Movie)

Posted 9 January, 2010 by Lianne in Books, Entertainment / 0 Comments

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
By: Stieg Larsson

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared off the secluded island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger family. There was no corpse, no witnesses, no evidence. But her uncle, Henrik, is convinced that she was murdered by someone from her own deeply dysfunctional family. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired to investigate, but he quickly finds himself in over his head. He hires a competent assistant: the gifted and conscience-free computer specialist Lisbeth Salander, and the two 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.

I’ve been hearing about this book throughout all of last summer and lots of recommendations for this book came from GoodReads and the bookstores and so forth. So when I noticed that it was out in paperback, I decided to check it out.

I’m going to start by saying that this book is not for the faint of heart. I’d like to think that I have a pretty good constitution when it comes to reading some pretty heavy stuff (I mean, c’mon, studying the Purges? The Ukrainian Famine of 1933? Pretty heinous stuff going on there) but this book has to be the first that really, truly disturbed me enough that it reeled me off from the storyline at times. The crimes were just horrific and gruesome. On GoodReads I had given it a 3 out of 5 just because the crimes and the acts of abuse and rape that occurred were really disturbing for me.

But that aside, the story is very interesting and it does keep your attention. The strange dynamic of the Vanger family I think was what particularly interested me. They all have their own issues (and clearly some more than others) and just when you think this family can’t get any more messed up, there’s even more stuff about them. But it does add to the mystery because you really don’t know who could’ve killed Harriet. Reading Blomkvist and Lisbeth’s process towards piecing together the entire puzzle was interesting to see.

The characters were also interesting, especially Lisbeth. She really stands out even though she doesn’t want to and she goes through some pretty rough stuff throughout the course of the novel. What’s admirable is that she is able to come through despite of all the bad stuff (and they’re plenty enough to leave you rattled for a lifetime) and really fight back. She can be interpreted as amoral, someone who’s blunt and doesn’t go through the normal social practices and conventions and who doesn’t really categorise her actions as being acceptable or not (I could mention an example but it’s highly spoilerish, so I won’t). On another level, she is deeply…well, I don’t want to say “moral”, but she does take a very firm line on certain issues, particularly abuse against women (very understandable but at the same time intriguing considering what I said earlier about her not really categorising her actions as acceptable or not in society). To that extent, you could say that she does see things in black and white. She’s smart, she’s talented, she’s tough and she has a number of issues to work through, but that’s what makes her such a fascinating character.

Just a word on the movie, I thought it was a pretty good adaptation. The cinematography was just right for this kind of movie and the soundtrack definitely added to the mood of the movie. They obviously left a lot of details out of the movie but given the amount of material in the book and the amount of time they have on screen, the stuff they removed made sense and kept much to the mystery plot. I thought Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace did a wonderful job as Blomkvist and Lisbeth. Rapace did a particularly exceptional job in conveying a lot of what Lisbeth is feeling with very little words; in the book you get a sense of what’s running through Lisbeth’s mind at particular moments but in the movie, as the audience, you don’t get that same advantage (particularly if you haven’t read the book).

I also like where they ended the movie, I thought it was pretty kick-ass; it also made a lot of sense considering that they didn’t really convey Blomkvist and Erika’s relationship fully on screen. In the book, Blomkvist and Lisbeth’s relationship is highly complex (or maybe not? I don’t know how I’d want to define it, haha) and Blomkvist does get around a bit in the book. I guess I’m good with the way they portrayed it on screen; it cuts a bit away from Blomkvist’s character and I suppose some of his flaws, but then again there’s so much going on that maybe it’s for the best. Besides, I quite enjoyed watching the dynamics between Blomkvist and Lisbeth play out on-screen; the way Lisbeth would work so singularly on a task or do something abrupt and Blomkvist would just stare at her either in awe or in a “Okay, she’s a little strange, how do I handle this?”

Overall, it’s an intriguing book. It definitely grabs your attention and it unfolded in a good pace. What intrigued me most was the dynamics of the Vanger family and the characters Lisbeth and Blomvkist and their relationship. However, I couldn’t give this book a higher rating because I’m a bit too rattled about the more gruesome aspects of the story; it just completely derails me from really getting into the story (I guess Larsson succeeded in making the book really…affecting?…in that case).

Rating: ★★★½☆

Read Stieg Larsson’s profile on Wikipedia || Order this book from the Book Depository

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