Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millenium Trilogy, Book 1)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo / 978-0-307-47347-9

I saw the movie of this novel first, and really enjoyed it, but when I started the novel, I nearly didn't make it past the first few chapters. I'll be honest: I've yet to read a 400+ page book that I didn't think could use a firmer editor, and this book did nothing to change my opinion. The writing is heavy and circuitous - finance discussions are interrupted with primers on what `journalism speak' is and isn't; a main character is introduced via a chapter that tells us her *employer's* name, rank, serial number, and favorite breakfast foods; and I had to laugh out loud when an in-depth study of the Vanger family is preempted with an entire page-full regaling the computer program the journalist favors to organize his notes, where it can be downloaded, and who the developers are, and how the developers are just generally awesome people.

After my first aborted attempt at immersion, however, I came back and persevered through the opening slog, and I'm glad I did. The book is just as immersive as the movie, and it's impossible to not get caught up in the mystery of the Vanger family, and their dark and secretive past. The main characters are sympathetic and compelling, and if they occasionally smell a little like Mary-and-Marty Sue (what with Blomkvist being such a country-wide celebrity and quite the ladies' man, and with Salander being eight levels of concentrated awesome at all times), it's okay because the story around them is so compelling that we can forgive the characters for being a touch larger than life.

Although "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is good stand-alone fiction, I'm particularly impressed by the underlying themes explored here in terms of violence against women and the exploitation of the vulnerable members of society. From the statistics presented at the beginning of the chapters to the careful exploration of the exploitation of main character Salander through the guardian system, the author presents a clear and compelling view of the ways the most vulnerable members of society can be exploited and hurt in silence. And while sometimes the message is a little worryingly heavy-handed (Blomkvist is openly applauded for being the first man to treat Salander like a human being, which seems a bit much and a tad unlikely), the overall message is both important and compellingly-written.

I even eventually warmed to the writing style, and though I do stay by my belief that stricter editing would only have improved this excellent book, I came to love it anyway, and I'm glad I stuck with it. I will definitely be reading the next book in the series, and I encourage anyone who liked the movie to stick with the book and give it a chance to win you over.

A word about the audiobook for this novel: This is some of the best book narration I've had the pleasure of listening to. The pacing and pausing is spot-on, and the character voices are unique, distinct, and full of feeling without being gimmicky or distracting. Although I usually feel audiobooks are "slow" compared to reading the novel (since one can read faster than the audiobook can speak), this audiobook feels perfectly paced, and the meandering writing style of the book seems to fit better here than on the page. I definitely recommend this audiobook to anyone, but especially to anyone who perhaps couldn't complete the reading but still wanted to complete this fantastic novel.

~ Ana Mardoll

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