Welcome to my blog. If you're addicted to books, like I am, then you've come to the right place. I mostly write about books and my experiences reading them. These are very personal book reviews. (If you can even call them book reviews...) I’m a true believer that none of us lives in a vacuum. When you read a book, watch a movie, listen to a song, etc., you absorb that art form into your life experience, and it changes you. But you also change it, because no two people see anything the same way. The way I interpret a novel may be totally different from the way you will. It’s still the same novel, but the meaning for each of us is unique. Once you express that meaning, it changes the art. So these posts are about how these books fit into my life. I’d love to hear how they fit into yours. Please make comment and share your experience.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

I have never rebelled.  I didn’t smoke or drink as a teenager.  I’ve never used illegal substances.  (Seriously…I haven’t.)  And I never ever skipped class.  Ever.  I do occasionally wear white after Labor Day.  And I don’t believe in ironing, (I know—shocking) but aside from that…I’m not a rebel.  I’m pretty content with that.  I like my life the way it is.  But as I’m getting older, I’m starting to wonder if maybe I’ve got a wild streak buried somewhere deep down.  It might be purple…yeah, that’s it…a purple wild streak…

A woman who works in the warehouse at my company has Technicolor hair.  It’s usually black with some kind of colorful streak in it. It might be kelly green or candy apple red or intense purple, it seems to change with the phases of the moon.  I told her once that I loved her hair, which I really do; I said, “I’ve always wanted to do something crazy like that.”  Later I wondered if perhaps I’d said something offensive to her, but I’m hoping she took it as the compliment I meant it to be.  Since then, the desire for a purple steak in my own hair has been growing. This desire has a lot of legs, like an octopus, wrapping its tentacles around different parts of my brain.   I keep asking myself, “Why haven’t I ever done something crazy like that?”
For a while, I thought could do it for my 40th birthday, like a rebellion against old age.  (Although the closer I get to 40, the less I think consider it a marker of “old age.”)   In one of my moments of indecision about this, I asked Adam what he thought about it.  (If my partner considered it to be a huge turn-off, there’s no way I’d sacrifice that part of my life for a stupid mid-life crisis about purple hair.  I assume most rebels aren’t that stupid.)  His reply was “Why wait till your 40th birthday?  If you want to do it, why not do it now?” yes.

You’d think this assent would have sent me right to the salon, but then, I started freaking out about it.  I love my hair just the way it is. I’ve never dyed it or bleached it or added highlights.  So far I can get by with just plucking out the grey hairs; why mess with a good thing?  Then I started thinking I’m just too chicken-sh!t to do it; I’ll never be a rebel.  A few days later, I flip flop again and I’m sure that I will do it.  And then I think I’ll just wait until after the next tradeshow, or the next business meeting, or…or…chicken.
What is it that is so fascinating about a rebel, anyway?  Is it because a rebel does what most of us wouldn’t dare do?  I think back to those kids in high school that sat on the fringe of the classroom in their dark coats with their dyed black hair and studded whatever.  Most were pretty harmless.  The clothes and the hair were about the extent of their rebellion.  Some rebels are beyond that, well beyond harmless and into the scary realm…remember the “trench coat mafia” at Columbine High School?   Are these the people that get pushed too far beyond the fringe? 

I know you’re thinking…is there a book review in here somewhere? 

Yes.   I’m just getting to it.  Lisbeth Salander, the title character and rebel in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, is one of those fascinating people.  She’s more than a little off-balance.  Rub her the wrong way and you might end up tortured or tazered or dead.  Or she might just destroy your life without you even knowing who did it.  In other words, she’s an awesome fictional character.  Just the kind of person you want to read about, complex and layered and so not a normal person. 
The dialog about Stieg Larsson has been going on for a while now.  His trilogy of mysteries has been on the bestseller list for a couple of years.  All that while, I’VE BEEN MISSING IT!!!!  (I hate not being in the know.) But that has been remedied.  As of a few nights ago, I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
As soon as something gets hyped up, my expectations raise considerably.  There’s no greater disappointment than wanting to love something that everyone else loves and then thinking, “Seriously?  This is it?”  I wanted to love this book; for the first 100 pages, however, I was thinking I’d be disappointed.  My whole book club was having a hard time getting into it.  But in the end I did love the book, so now I have a dilemma on my hands, because if I hype it up too much, you’ll all be expecting lightning bolts and rainbows and unicorns to burst out of the pages when you crack the binding.  

Well, there are no rainbows or unicorns that will leap out of the pages, but Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, the two main protagonists will grab your attention.  It did take me a good 120 pages before this book really hooked me.  The characters were the only thing that kept me opening the book that long.  But once I got past that mark, the story took over and I was enraptured by the mystery unfolding.  This book has action, suspense and danger; and the character development is pretty good.  Larsson switches the 3rd person perspective on you from time to time, so when you’re learning about one character, not only do you learn about her from a completely 3rd person omniscience…you also get the views of her from the people around her…her employer, her partner, herself.  Not all authors do this; it adds dimension to the characters to see them from multiple perspectives. 

This character development is what takes this book beyond a simple mystery or suspense novel and gives it some meat to sink your teeth into (tofu for us veggies out there).  But at its core, this is a mystery novel.  In the opening pages, you learn about the disappearance of a 16 year old girl that happened 40 years prior, a disgraced journalist, and a twisted researcher/hacker.  As the story unfolds, disgrace becomes triumph, one mystery becomes the link to many crimes and the search for a villain intensifies as he threatens our protagonists.  And that’s all I’m going to tell you; hopefully it’s not too much hype.

Ratings  (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)
Crack Factor – 8.75.  It took a while for me to get addicted to this book, but the middle-end held me in suspense. 
Distraction Factor – 9.  Through my research about Steig Larsson and his 3 novels, I learned that the Swedish title of this book translated as Men who Hate Women.   The violence against women theme is quite distracting in this book.  He keeps bringing you back to it, not only from the perspective of the mysteries uncovered and solved during the course of the novel, but also the violence and abuse that our protagonist faces in her own life.  Lisbeth’s reactions to her own misfortune and to her abusers intrigued me.  She accepts no victim mentality, just stays intent on punishment for those in the wrong, and she lets no abuser lean on the excuse of prior abuse. 
Enrichment Factor –?.  While I wouldn’t call this book educational by any means, I found the Swedish names and place to be particularly entertaining.  I have a lot of Swedish customers and it was fun to acknowledge the similarity of some character’s names to the people I email every day, and realize that part of the story is taking place in the towns where my customers live.  
PeopleFactor – 8.5.  I don’t need to repeat myself; almost this whole review is about characters.  The secondary characters are almost as interesting as the protagonists. 
Story Telling Factor – 9.5.  My favorite surprise with this book was the layering of story and character development.  Blomkvist and Lisbeth not only become partners in solving a crime, but their relationship evolves into something else as well, which not only thickens the plot, but gives Lisbeth’s character, especially, some additional development. 
Writing Skills Factor – ?.  I don’t know how to rate this one.  I’d tend to rate Larsson lower than most other authors I’ve reviewed, but it could be a translation thing.  I didn’t like his style as much as some other authors, but he’s not a bad or annoying writer.  His writing style doesn’t detract from the story or the characters, but I don’t think it enriches them either.
Bad Ass Babe Factor – 9.5  Lisbeth is more “bad ass” than most all characters to whom I’ve given high ratings.   She epitomizes the literal sense of this phrase.  Most of my BABs aren’t literal BABs, but Lisbeth is.  I’d have to admit, she’s more Bad Ass than Babe, though.  I love her sense of personal conviction and her sense of loyalty and her own acknowledgement of her uniqueness.  She knows she’s not the same as everyone else, but she doesn’t try to be different, it’s just that she knows it’s a part of her.  She accepts her “flaws” for the most part and only seems to lament them at the end of the story, when she realizes that they hold her back from a part of life she’s not even sure she wants. 

Total Rating: 9.05
As an end note, my husband, Adam, read this book along with me and my book club.  Most of the time Adam’s reading material is Hot Rod magazine or Cook’s Illustrated, so I was pleasantly surprised and excited that he was going to be another book discussion partner for me.  When I told him I was finishing my review and asked him if he had any comments.  His response was, “Blech.”  He didn’t get hooked in the first 100 pages either, and when I finished the book, he asked me for the bullet point synopsis and then he read the last 100 pages.  I guess you could call it the Jenny Cliff Notes abbreviated version.  Anyway, he was not impressed, and had nothing positive to say about the book.  Soooooo…..I just thought I’d pass this along.  It’s not for everyone.  


  1. Just read that Marvel is making this into a graphic novel. More Adam's style, maybe?

  2. I scarfed up all three in the series! After the third one was out. Was up way to late in the night in long marathons of reading. Very entertaining indeed.

    Did you find yourself craving coffee? So many mentions of "I'll make us a pot of coffee and we can talk about that." In book three I kept count of how many times coffee was mentioned. Close to 50, as I recall. Part of the culture, my Scandinavian friends assure me. They don't read this as odd in the least.

    Fun reads! bk