The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – a lot of wasted ink

Unless you’ve been hiding away in a hut in Outer Mongolia for the last couple of years you will have heard of Stieg Larsson and his trio of crime thrillers, the first of which is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  So many friends of mine have read and raved about it that I felt I should form my own opinion. So here that is….

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is pacy and entertaining and it keeps you guessing until the very end. It’s pretty gruesome in parts, which is not my cup of tea – but then I’m not a big crime fiction fan. I’m the sort of person who gets upset every time I watch the news and I can’t read the Metro in the morning unless I want to lie awake worrying every night.

But… even putting aside my distaste for the gruesome and the sordid I can’t say that I loved the book or that I felt the incredible hype surrounding it was justified. The characters feel like cardboard cut-outs, the plot is totally implausible and the book sorely needs some editing.  To give an example, Lisbeth Salander’s computer breaks and Larsson says: “Unsurprisingly, she set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminium case with a Power PC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 megs of RAM and a sixty gig hard  drive. It had BlueTooth and built in C.D and D.V.D. burners.” What????

Another classic example (sorry, I couldn’t resist it) comes about when Blomkvist is writing up the Vanger family tree. Larsson says: “The family was so extensive that he was forced to create a database in his iBook. He used the NotePad programme (, one of those full-value products that two men at the Royal Technical College had created and distributed as shareware for a pittance on the internet.”

Seriously, what the hell? What editor in his right mind would let that utter tripe slip through the net? You have to wonder how it was allowed to happen – no normal author would be allowed to stamp his feet and force such dreadful material through the editing process, I’m sure of it….

On that note, the story behind Larsson’s crime trilogy is much more interesting than the books themselves. (This is perhaps the x-factor that accounts for their runaway success.) The untimely death of the author (pretty much just after he turned his manuscripts over to the publishers) and the subsequent battle between his partner of 32 years, Eva Gabrielsson, and his estranged family for control of his estate – these stories are the stuff of great fiction.

I was ready to blame Gabrielsson for the dreadful editing of Larsson’s book. It smacked of her being over-fussy about keeping his original text but in an interview with the Guardian she actually criticises the English translation of the book. (Since she and Larsson were not married she had no say when it came to the editing.) She claims that Larsson’s family has not taken good enough care of his existing work and she also complains that Larsson’s British editor, Christopher MacLehose, has ‘prissified’ his dialogue. (Is he also responsible for the other editorial crimes that occur throughout or should the family’s overbearing influence be blamed for those?) Either way, someone should be ashamed.

Gabrielsson complains that now Larsson is dead “the “mythology” is unbearable.” I can imagine her frustrations. As a reader, I think the mythology that surrounds the Millenium trilogy puts Larsson’s books on a pedestal when really they’re average crime thrillers (speaking for the first book anyway – which I am told is the best). If you’re not much of a reader and you’re not a pedant like myself, pick the book up at the airport and enjoy it. Personally, the whole thing was a bit sloppy for me and there were dull stretches where I felt my interest flagging.

Having read the ‘taster’ for the second book in the back, which again dealt with a gruesome rape, I think I’ve accepted that these books just aren’t for me. I’m not attacking Larsson for writing them – after all, he is essentially a feminist and good for him – but I don’t have the stomach for them. And if I want to know about the latest (or in this case outdated) computer gadgets I’ll go to PC World…

Buy this book


Filed under fiction

12 responses to “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – a lot of wasted ink

  1. BibliophilebytheSea

    I haven’t read this one, but was just think I should because of all the hype about the series. Maybe I will reconsider, with so many other great books to read. Thanks 4 your honest review.

  2. king penguin

    great review, followed my feelings pretty closely. I liked the book enough in a non-plussed kind of way, but nothing ground breaking. A decent read, but not one I would go so far as recommending. At the same time though I wouldn’t warn people off it.

  3. I didn’t think these were for me and now I’m sure. I, too, don’t watch the news or care for gruesome fiction.

    Nice review. I like how you explained exactly why you didn’t like it.

    Thank you!

  4. There was way too much product placement in the trilogy. I don’t know if it was intentional or not so much, but it did annoy me. A fast-paced gripping plot helped a lot though, and almost made me ignore the product placement and unnecessary description. In the second book, I think, everytime Lisbeth goes to the grocery store, we’re told about every single item she purchases : the brand, the label etc. It’s tiresome.

    All said and done though, I enjoyed the trilogy, with the second book being my favourite. Probably shouldn’t be saying that though, reading the last line of your post. 🙂

  5. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone be critical about the book yet, so I enjoyed your thoughts. You have got to be kidding about those computer micro details!! Of course, I know you’re not but that is truly amazing that those bits were allowed to make it through the edit process. The story behind the story does sound interesting!

  6. This is the latest in product placement in books. It feels like the book was destined to be a Hollywood movie even when it was written. I agree with the sentiment about cardborad cut out characters, there’s always a Nazi agenda etc when evil lurks.

  7. Karl Gustav

    Are you a moron?
    This book was published in 2005, written several yrs. earlier. Perhaps you should have checked that first before making your asinine comments.
    Technology does change over time,son!

    • I’m not sure what your point is here to be honest. My comment was that a good editor would never leave in such unecessary technical jargon, partly because that sort of thing quickly dates a book and partly because the majority of readers aren’t interested in the exact spec of a character’s home computer.

      • Karl Gustav

        It was important in order to characterize Lisbeth, as having high technical standards and being savvy in her field. So your argument and imho your generalization of all reader’s except yourself, fail.

      • We’ll have to agree to disagree I think.

  8. Milna

    Truly all those details seemed unnecessary while narrating. Maybe it was a way of showing the character analysing products, just like a regular customers . Nevertheless, I felt like they were paid advertisements.

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