A Review of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Should you find yourself in search of a good audiobook for traveling over the Holidays, I would recommend “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Whatever medium in which you choose to read the book, however, you should do so, especially if you enjoy mysteries. ┬áThe “whodunit” factor of the plot kept me entertained, and there are enough turns and unexpected twists to keep you guessing. Also, one of the great contributions of reading this in audiobook format is that the narrator had a great sense of the characters, and the voices added a great deal to helping me visualizing them.

The mystery, however, isn’t what stayed with me the most.

The original title of the book (pre-translation, it’s “Men Who Hate Women”) seems appropriate, as that’s certainly the over-arching theme of the book. My wife commented that Mikael is a foil to this theme. ┬áThere are basically three types of attitudes toward women presented here: hatred, love, and uncertainty, all represented in different characters. In fact, Mikael seems to be a participant on further inspection, as a passive “hater” in his failure to respect the women in his life through an intentional lack of commitment and willingness to use them for his own gratification.

Lisbeth’s character is heart-wrenching. She’s a great depiction of Asperger’s Syndrome, combined with a healthy dose of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This poor, brilliant woman has no clue how to have a normal, functioning friendship with someone without permitting herself to be objectified. We see her exist in a perpetual loneliness brought about through events beyond her power, and watch as her coping mechanisms lead her to assume a role of subtle but great power over others.

I saw two other themes at work here: justice and forgiveness. Justice, in that Lisbeth is a sort of data vigalante who is unrestrained by societal norms and free to mete out justice of her own variety and in ways that she sees fit. Yet, we never question her ethics, because of what she has experienced. Are we right to view her in that sort of victim mentality? Are we wrong to oppose her?

Also, to piggyback on some discussion I listened to about the book (the Kindlings Muse podcast discussed this at length), the theme of forgiveness and second chances is strong. Lisbeth reprents the secrets that we all want to hide. In an era where someone with her skills can get their hands on every dirty secret we’ve ever typed or recorded anywhere during our lives, can we ever be offered any sort of grace? Is forgiveness possible in a world where nothing can ever be forgotten?

The book caught my attention through it’s heavy marketing in bookstores and on iTunes. I was actually sort of surprised that it is a mystery novel, as I thought it would be more of an espionage novel at first blush. I was in no way disappointed, however. The life of the late Larsson and how it influenced his writing make this book even more fascinating. There are violent sequences in the book, some of the specific details of which could perhaps have been spared the reader without losing any of the impact of the events. I found them to be slightly gratuitous at times. Larsson dwells in his details (perhaps a bit exhaustively in the first chapters), even during the action of the book, and right into the poignant ending. He chooses his words well, and this is an excellent translation from the original language. I’m left aching in sympathy for Lisbeth while cheering her on, and looking very forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

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