Review by Gabriel
I don’t usually read thrillers. No matter how hard authors try to create some quirky new riff on the genre, they still end up being formulaic and cliché. I gave The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a go, because I’d heard so much buzz about it, and was going away for work for a month and didn’t want to use my brain too much. It turned out to be a page-turner with some interesting inversions on the tropes, but which won’t make a lasting impression because of the conventions of the genre, and its writing style.
Of course, at the centre of the novel is a murder mystery. Mikael Blomkvist is a down-on-his-luck journalist who targets corporate corruption. He has just been sued for libel, tarnishing the image of the magazine he has spent years building. In his dire straights, he is approached by Berger Vanger, the head of a decaying business empire and a dysfunctional dynasty. Vanger tasks Blomkvist with solving the disappearance of his teenage niece over forty years ago – a mystery that Vanger has already spent significant years and resources on. It seems like an impossible task, until Blomkvist enlists the help of Lizbeth Salander, an unconventional private investigator with a taste for body piercing and gothic clothes, and the inexplicable ability to discover her target’s deepest secrets.
Salander saves this book from mediocrity. She is Larsson’s most interesting, though by no means original, creation. She is a complex, flawed character whose many secrets will presumably be explored in later instalments in Larsson’s Millenium trilogy. She’s also a feminist figure, contrasting with all the victimised women in the novel, and while she doesn’t crack the case, she is allowed to physically dispatch the villains.
Mysteries are supposed to be page-turners, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo definitely succeeds. It makes excellent use of the conventions – red herrings; just enough clues to keep the reader guessing; an escalating threat to the protagonists. But it is because of these conventions that I disengaged. It’s well done, but nothing I haven’t seen before.
There were also some unfortunate clichés. Can we have a European novel without Nazism, please? The serial killer turns out to be disappointingly two-dimensional, too. The central theme is violence against women, but it is not explored in a particularly interesting way. The primary suggestions if that some men hate women, which is neither a new nor an interesting idea, however true it might be.
I suppose the main reason I wasn’t fully drawn in was because of the writing style. Larsson writes in a way that is common to popular fiction, where everything is explicit. Lengthy exposition on character’s backgrounds, their feeling towards each other, and their emotions. It’s lazy writing that stops authors from communicating information in more interesting, subtle ways, and it deprives the reader of the ambiguity that engages the imagination.
If you like thrillers, you’ll probably like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and if I find myself stuck in an airport with nothing to read, or just feel like something light, I’ll probably pick up the sequels.