0238 | The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

Context: 2009 became 2010 while I was reading this.

REVIEW
I don’t read thrillers as a rule so, when I unwrapped this book on Christmas day, I was intrigued to see if it would break the rules. I was inspired to read on the front cover that this was the winner of the British Book Awards Crime Trhiller of the Year last year and that, according to no less than Philip Pullman, it was supposed to be “Several cuts above most thrillers.” In fact, right at the end of the book, I came across a page that stated that this book was “destined to be regarded as amongst the best crime novels ever written.”

Er… hang on. Let’s not get carried away with our omniscience shall we? So, now I’ve read it, what did I think?

Not all that much to be honest. Sorry to say it but that’s how I felt. For a start, it’s not about a girl with a dragon tattoo. She’s just one of the characters and not the main one either. Her dragon tattoo is only one of many and is hardly ever mentioned. I think Larsson just couldn’t think of a title actually.

It’s really about an industrial dynasty, a long-established society family in Sweden that, as most families of such ilk, harbour a terrifying catalogue of secrets. Blomkvist (who is the main character), a recently discredited editor of a magazine, is hired by the patriarch of the family to look into the disappearance of his niece thirty years ago.

The main reason I don’t enjoy thrillers is that you know exactly what’s going to happen right from the start. Thrillers are as predictable as Disney and Larsson follows the script to a t. Despite Blomkvist facing innumerable difficulties and impossible puzzles to solve, a nice blend of skill and serendipity means that everything works out fine in the end.

This is strange as it’s the first in a trilogy and with everything so nicely done and dusted, there’s not much incentive to go on and read the second book. The publishers, realising this, have stapled a five page taster from the next book onto the end of this one.

Now, as I say, I’m not an expert on thrillers and so it’s difficult for me to place this within the genre. What I can say though was that, although I didn’t have any difficulty getting through it, I didn’t feel thrilled at any point. I could easily put it down and do something else. I didn’t feel like I needed to isolate myself from the world in order to dedicate my whole being to it as I do with truly gripping writing. In essence, I expected more.

The characters are okay, but morally the book is all over the place. The only way to explain this is to adopt a Scandinavian license for sexuality. The girl with the tattoo has a deep hatred for anyone who abuses women sexually and is quick to point out that people who do such things are evil. But then she sees nothing wrong in having multiple sexual partners of either orientation and at one point confesses that she doesn’t see why people should criticise her for fulfilling her own sexual desires her way. Anyone else smell a bit of a contradiction here? It’s hard to see on what basis the good guys are good guys and the bad guys are bad guys when you have no moral reference and that undermines the whole ethic of the novel for me. After all, it’s supposed to be a novel about criminality…

Anyway, if this is, as Pullman and the publisher claims, among the best ever written then there’s no point in me reading any more then. My rule stays intact.

FIRST LINE
It happened every year, was almost a ritual.

CLOSING LINE
She tossed Elvis into a skip.

RATING
rubbish | poor | mediocre | okay | good | very good | excellent | superb

  • yarb January 12, 2010, 8:55 am

    “The girl with the tattoo has a deep hatred for anyone who abuses women sexually and is quick to point out that people who do such things are evil. But then she sees nothing wrong in having multiple sexual partners of either orientation and at one point confesses that she doesn’t see why people should criticise her for fulfilling her own sexual desires her way. Anyone else smell a bit of a contradiction here?”

    Unless she is sexually abusing her partners, there is no contradiction.

    Someone recommended this to me but I thought it sounded mediocre, so I’m glad your review confirms my prejudice. Enjoyed as ever – I only comment when I disagree with some moral statement!

    Reply
    • Arukiyomi January 12, 2010, 1:54 pm

      but that’s the point I’m making exactly: it’s a moral statement and there’s a deep contradiction.

      She is criticising someone else’s sexual practice as being immoral but then taking offence when someone criticises her own sexual practice as immoral. The problem is born of relativity: without a code that transcends humanity by which to ascertain what is moral or not, you cannot make absolute value judgements about moral practice. This is a major problem for humanism. The girl’s reaction may be typical but it is nevertheless hypocritical.

      Years ago, homosexuality was regarded as criminal, immoral and perverse. Now, in Britain, the idea of it being regarded in this way is abhorrent to the majority. In the same way paedophilia, which is currently regarded as criminal, immoral and perverse will perhaps, in years to come, be regarded as perfectly acceptable. The latter statement is as shocking to us now as the idea that homosexuality would ever be to the majority in Victorian-age Britain, but this is what happens without a fixed moral code which transcends humanity. Without it, there is no reason to prevent paedophilia becoming, in time, as acceptable as homosexuality has done nor, ironically, the latter becoming once more unacceptable.

      Reply
  • ibbie January 20, 2010, 2:56 pm

    context is important. anyone coming from a highly conservative society would really not appreciate these kind of books, whereas someone from sweden would see no contradiction at all. it’s like making someone from a strictly conservative religion appreciate what, don’t know, lady chatterley’s lover?
    about the title, you’re forgetting that you’re reading a translation., and probably american. most european translations keep the original title – men who hate women (män som hatar kvinnor).
    it’s a very swedish book, stieg larrson made no attempts to make it have a universal appeal. anyone with limited knowledge of swedish society might find it difficult to understand.

    Reply
    • Arukiyomi January 24, 2010, 6:41 pm

      you’re right about the translation… the criticism of the title was not aimed at Larsson per se… funnily enough, I’m pretty sure I’d be labelled as conservative by most Swedes, but I had no problems with Lady Chatterley’s Lover at all, particularly after reading Lawrence’s afterword explaining the purpose of the novel in the edition I had.

      I think you’ve missed my point… there is a contradiction and it’s not relative to your moral stance. To illustrate it, take the moral standpoint of the Dragon Tattoo woman and answer the questions: What’s wrong with men hating women? and What’s wrong with men having multiple sexual partners outside marriage? In order to answer those questions, you have to draw moral boundaries and decided that one is unacceptable and one is acceptable. and unless you have a code that supersedes humanity, it’s all just human opinion, and entirely relative. If it’s relative, you can’t harbour a grudge against someone just because they behave in a way you find unacceptable. They define morality differently and you either have to live with it or accept the contradiction and condemn them.

      Reply
  • ibbie January 20, 2010, 2:58 pm

    are you really sure you knew what had happened to the lost girl from the start? or even who was guilty of the multiple murders? that’s news to me.

    Reply
    • Arukiyomi January 24, 2010, 6:44 pm

      [quote comment=”18982″]are you really sure you knew what had happened to the lost girl from the start? or even who was guilty of the multiple murders? that’s news to me.[/quote]
      again, I think you miss my point. No, I didn’t know those particular pieces of information. The point is that as long as I trudge through the material, I will find out. It’s like watching a Disney film or some formulaic Bond exploit: no matter how terrible things look, you know everything will be fine and all the questions will be answered in the end. It’s too tidy, too boring and way too little like real life. How can it be suspenseful when I know that I’ll have all the answers and that all the ‘good’ people will be fine and all the ‘bad’ people will suffer? That’s my point.

      Reply
  • Mae January 31, 2010, 2:12 am

    “She is criticising someone else’s sexual practice as being immoral but then taking offence when someone criticises her own sexual practice as immoral.”

    But abusing women isn’t a sexual practice – it’s abuse, violent and disgusting abuse unless both parties had consented. I see no contradiction in her morals here.

    I agree with your comment on the title – Lisbet was barely the central character until much later in the book and her tattoos were barely mentioned. That’s the publisher’s fault. The original swedish title is ‘men who hate women’.

    Reply
  • ibbie February 1, 2010, 2:23 am

    beginning to wonder how your copy was translated. all the good people didn’t actually end up fine, and the bad people didn’t exactly all suffer at the end. in fact, justice had not been done.
    i see you’ve taken out the comment about the title from your entry, if i remember right, you said, oh well, Stieg Larsson couldn’t come up with a better title.
    there are only two times in the book when liesbeth’s sex life is discussed, andf not even any really expliciet scenes, compared to most novels, detective or not, in fact it’s a rather tame novel as far as sex scenes are concerned, thus my wondering where the critic on swedish permissiveness comes from.
    and are you sure swedish sexual permissiveness is not just a stereotype?
    as for men hating women, i’m rather surprised that you ask what’s wrong with it in the context of the book (have no problem with that on a context putside the book). am beginning to wonder if we’ve read the same book at all. mine was certainly the first of the trilogy and yes, it’s translated as the dragon tattooed woman, apparently (do you still remember her name?)

    Reply
  • ibbie February 1, 2010, 2:27 am

    you’ve read the book already, you say (now i’ve read it in your entry), so how come you don’t have the details about who the criminal was and what happened to the lost girl? funny.

    Reply
  • Arukiyomi February 6, 2010, 1:42 pm

    [quote comment=”19028″]you’ve read the book already, you say (now i’ve read it in your entry), so how come you don’t have the details about who the criminal was and what happened to the lost girl? funny.[/quote]
    eh? I think you may have missed something… I didn’t have the info when I started the book. Past tense, not present. Of course I know the details now I’ve read it.

    [quote comment=”19028″]and are you sure swedish sexual permissiveness is not just a stereotype?[/quote]
    Well, you said it: [quote comment=”18981″]anyone coming from a highly conservative society would really not appreciate these kind of books, whereas someone from sweden would see no contradiction at all.[/quote] That’s what I meant by permissiveness – they would permit things that other cultures would not. And even if it is a stereotype, when you’re considering an entire culture, you’re generalising anyway and that’s where stereotypes come from; they are in fact based on typical realities.

    Reply
  • Arukiyomi February 6, 2010, 2:01 pm

    [quote comment=”19025″]But abusing women isn’t a sexual practice – it’s abuse, violent and disgusting abuse unless both parties had consented. I see no contradiction in her morals here.[/quote]
    That’s a very interesting phrase “unless both parties had consented” So, if I get you right, tying someone down to a bed and inserting various items into their orifices is absolutely moral as long as both people want the act to happen? Is consent all we need to justify what we do in life? I want, we want it, everyone involved wants it so it must be okay?

    When Lisbet encounters Mikael post coitus in bed with Erika, she feels uncomfortable about it, possibly hurt. Hurting someone’s body for sexual pleasure, is immoral by your definition. What about hurting someone’s being? Lisbet obviously feels a bit of a dilemma there. It would have been interesting for Larsson to explore that.

    I think you’re actually illustrating my point: if sexual immorality is defined relatively and shifts with each situation, each person or object involved, then while we may label one sexual act as moral and another as immoral, what right do we have to impose those labels on others?

    Mae, where did you get the moral code that tells you that without consent, sex is immoral and that having multiple sexual and lesbian partners is moral? If my code says the opposite of that, you may disagree with it, but why is my code not just as valid as yours?

    Reply

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