Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I accept it. I am the only person in the free world who thinks that Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sucks. It's awful. Horrible. One of the very worst books I've read in my entire life, and I have read a lot of crappy books over the years, between my mother's insistence that I read Christian fiction (including the wretched Left Behind series) and children's novels that were published in the 80's and 90's before Young Adult literature became a quasi-respected genre. This book is almost as bad as Twilight, and there are only two only things that keep it from being worse than Twilight in my mind: 1) it only has two sequels and there won't be any more (so I don't have to worry about being subjected to additional sycophantic praise of Larsson's "genius" when future works are released) and 2) nobody sparkles. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is that male equivalent of the Mary Sue Vampire Novel.

Let's look at it this way: Stephenie Meyer is a boring, bookish woman leading a quiet, mundane existence who writes a bestselling novel about a boring, bookish teenage girl who falls in love with an extraordinary man (a sparkling vampire, no less) and goes on to have Big Adventures. Stieg Larsson was an investigative journalist who wrote a bestselling novel about a investigative journalist who gets a Big Assignment and is only able to complete it with the help of an extraordinary woman (a delinquent super-genius who is covered in tattoos and piercings), and they go on a Big Adventure. Both are examples of self-indulgent fantasy literature, pure and simple, and that alone puts Larsson straight into the "mediocre writer" category for me, and that's not even touching on his writing style (which almost put me in a coma) and the exploitative, prurient treatment of sexual violence that occurs throughout his novels (vomit).

I'll tackle the writing style first: it's boring. Mundane. Ho-hum. Feels like slogging through cold mud on a lukewarm afternoon. Thoroughly unenjoyable, and I swear to the god I don't believe in, if I read one more description of a cheese sandwich, I will disassemble my nook, find the sharpest component, and use it to cut my wrists because SERIOUSLY, this is one of the most tedious books I've ever read, and I majored in English. I've read the entirety of Dante and the bulk of the Hawthorne oeuvre. I've conquered The Faerie Queene. I finished the unabridged The Count of Monte Cristo in French, and most of Dickens' collected work, including the really dull ones like Bleak House and Hard Times. None of these (with the possible exception of The Faerie Queene) approaches the pure, unadulterated sluggishness of the up-til-the-last-fifty-pages-or-so of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was bad enough that Larsson felt compelled to regale us all with every aspect of Blomkvist's dietary habits and sartorial choices, but the insistence upon providing pages upon pages upon pages of unnecessary exposition upon every character, major and minor, was what really did me in. This book had all the pacing of a funeral march, which isn't something I find compelling in a novel that's supposed to be a thriller. Like Twilight, it could have been a good 100-200 pages shorter without sacrificing the story. Where have all the editors gone? It's not like authors get paid by the word anymore.

The aspect of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that I have found the most infuriating is that it's being presented as a work of feminist literature because the main characters kick the crap out of/kill sexual predators who inflict horrific acts of violence on women. I'm hardly one to complain about a rapist being on the receiving end of a good ass-whooping, but I don't think that something like that qualifies a work as feminist, especially when it 1) fails the Bechdel Test, 2) the female characters of the book are all pathetically obsessed with the Larry Stu main character, and 3) depicts said acts of sexual violence in a way that is, frankly, stomach-churningly voyeuristic, objectifying, and exploitative, causing it to read like rape porn. That Larsson goes into graphic detail in the rape scenes but not the scenes involving consensual sex further squicks me out. Like, consensual sex is too boring to be described, but sexual assault should be depicted in a downright titillating fashion? Riiiiight.

I also really hated the fact that Lisbeth Salandar's massive issues (that probably resulted from her being sexually assaulted as a child) are depicted as being quirky and adorable. PTSD isn't cute, people, but I'll save my lengthy rant on the literary treatment of mentally ill women for another day.

I'll end on this: It is a truly sad state of affairs when a book in which the female characters are basically props that also features a multitude of prurient descriptions of violence against women is hailed as some gigantic feminist statement because the author put quotations and statistics about domestic violence being bad at the beginning of the chapters. I find Larsson's treatment of female victims of violence to be both condescending and exploitative, and the whole book left a really bad taste in my mouth. After reading the opening scene of the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and feeling the bile start to rise, I decided to cut my losses, call it quits, and read something decent instead.

I give it a 0.5 out of 5 stars (because it's not as bad as Twilight), or an F-.

ETA: More feminist killers of literary joy.


  1. I had a sinking feeling those books were trash but I couldn't figure out why (having not read them based on said weird intuition). So glad I didn't waste the money.

    The worst part is that the books and acts within them are being glamorized and a whole generation of women will probably grow up inoculated to the horrors of sexual assault under the guise of purported feminism.

  2. You're not the only person in the world who hated these books. I read it during my breaks at work, and people would come into the room and say "ooh, ahh, isn't that just a thrilling, amazing book? Just wait until you read the second one." I never got to the second one. I didn't even finish the first one, I was so bored. Thanks for validating my sentiments.

  3. "Both are examples of self-indulgent fantasy literature, pure and simple, and that alone puts Larsson straight into the "mediocre writer"

    I so agree with you about Twilight and GWDT. What's worse is that he's a lady's man who is so magnetic that he beds half of the women in the novel. You can't help but to think he's so up himself.