The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Girl with the dragon tattoo
I admit it, I am out-of-step with current, popular taste, because I seem to be the one man on earth who thinks that the international bestseller  THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a lousy book. I'm not even sure why I finished reading it. Sonny Mehta, the book's U.S. publisher at Knopf, calls it "deeply ambitious, insightful and fiercely smart," and I am here to tell you it is none of those things.  

The book is two-thirds exposition… we're talking hundreds and hundreds of pages of numbingly dull backstory that brackets the one third in the middle where something actually happens. Unfortunately, what happens isn't ambitious, insightful, fiercely smart or even mildly interesting. And it's all written with cliche-ridden prose that is so bad that it's distracting. (that may be the fault of the translator, Reg Keeland, and not the original, Swedish author, Stieg Larsson). Here are some examples:

"I think you are grasping at straws going to Hedestad."


"Ricky, that story is dead as a doornail."


You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see that these events were somehow related. There had to be a skeleton in one of their cupboards.

These are just three examples out of hundreds. And there are also a lot of clumsy descriptions, like this one: 

She looked like an ageing vampire — still strikingly beautiful but venomous as a snake.

So is she a vampire or a snake?  Are vampire venomous? And there are even clunkier sentences, like this one:

Harald Vanger had gone back to his cave by the time Blomkvist came out. When he turned the corner, he found someone quite else sitting on the porch of the cottage.

Someone quite else?? Either Larsson was a very bad writer or the translator's grasp of English isn't so good. It certainly doesn't strike me as "fiercely smart."

The title of the book is misleading, too, since it refers to the hero's sidekick and not the actual central character, who is a one-dimensionally valiant reporter for a financial magazine who is irresistible to women. If the women that he meets don't bed him immediately and fall madly in love with him, it's clear that they desperately want to.  Virtually all the men in the tale are sadists and all the women in the story have been sexually brutalized, willingly or unwillingly (it's mentioned in an aside that the reporter and his business partner/lover dabbled in S&M and bondage for fun years ago). Maybe that's why the original title of the book in Sweden was MEN WHO HATE WOMEN. I'm not kidding, that was the title.

It all adds up to a book that's heavy on dull exposition, glorifies rape & torture while pretending to disapprove, and is written in unbearably flat, cliche-ridden prose. I can't find a single positive thing to say about the book except that the galley was well-bound and is no longer taking up space on my bookshelf.

UPDATE: Well, it looks like I am not the only one who hated the book. The New York Times did, too, for many of the same reasons that I did.

UPDATE 3-15-09: When Ellen Clair Lamb reviewed the book, and commented on the clunky translation, the translator responded:

Sorry you didn't like the translation. I originally translated it into American English, but then the book was bought in the UK, and the Scottish editor really did a number on it — hence my pseudonym. I'm hoping Knopf's edition of books 2 & 3 will come out better. — "Reg Keeland"

21 thoughts on “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

  1. Horrible book. That emperor is naked as shit.
    I tried 3 times to read it and still couldn’t make it past page 100.

  2. I got it from Audible and made it about halfway through the first part (of two or three). I really wanted to like it, and perked up whenever the title character came in… then nodded off when it went back to “and then on the third day of the search thirty years ago they discovered there was a Volvo parked in the driveway. As they investigated, they realized the Volvo was manufactured in Sweden. Under the hood was an engine, and that engine had eight cylinders. The cylinder is an important part of the internal combustion engine, which was invented…”

  3. I completely agree with you on THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. It’s a long, tedious book. There are some interesting elements, but they just don’t jell. I’m amazed this book has been hyped so much. Another triumph of marketing…

  4. Ted, are you talking about Berenson’s review? There’s a lot of critique in there — much more so than a lot of what the Times runs.

  5. “… we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of pages of numbingly dull backstory that brackets the one third in the middle where something actually happens. Unfortunately, what happens isn’t ambitious, insightful, fiercely smart or even mildly interesting. And it’s all written with cliche-ridden prose that is so bad that it’s distracting.”
    “Are vampire venomous?”
    These are the words of a man who has yet to read Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight.” You need to read Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight.” It is _dreadful_. It’s so dreadful it’s nearly fun. You *must* read it and share your opinions here. ;-D

  6. I am finishing the book (in german) and was browsing the net just to check if there was someone out there who thought that this book was NOT THAT GOOD. Unbelievable characters, clichéd psycopaths, lousy writing and easy-to-guess secret murder. Glad to see I am not alone!

  7. The translation in the UK edition is appalling. Not just clunky and cliched, but frequently grammatically incorrect, if not completely lacking in any sense whatsoever. And I’m only on page 30 of this. This book is going to the charity shop.

  8. I thought the book was decent, even if the exposition was heavy-handed (I laughed aloud at Bill Rabkin’s comment above). Then again, I read this book after muddling through 50% of The Da Vinci Code, which makes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seem positively Pulitzer-worthy.

  9. I too am baffled by the praise this book has received. Baffled. Although I finished the darn thing (I suppose I just needed to find out whodunit), I felt as if I were just slogging through. The writing was mediocre, and yes, occasionally cliched. And I was annoyed by the main character’s sexual dalliances — an example of male fantasy gone silly, insofar as the women he bedded seemed to throw themselves at him as he blithely sat back. Give me a break.

  10. I don’t get it…people are so excited by this! I have cancer and in prep for surgery and chemo keeping me out and in bed for awhile…someone said I should read this, and they bought me a copy. Now I feel oblicated…but over halfway through I am so bored with this, and reading other things on the side. Not that I would choose cancer…but this book is almost as bad!

  11. It’s strange that 99.9% of comments posted here are against this book. The Author seems to be very selective on what comments to post. I believe that most people here are lazy readers who need to be spoon-fed. No imagination whatsoever. For me, this book (First on the Millennium trilogy) is a million miles ahead of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Americans need to learn that good thrillers, or literature, can be produced outside the US borders.
    You’d be better off reading comments on Amazon or other sites. On the other hand, you can stick to juvenile stuff like Harry Potter. Lord Of The Rings, etc.
    Now, I normally don’t like to recommend anything to anybody, but since you are offended by this thriller, and if you really want to read good literature, read 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, or any other of his books. Then again, you’ll probably give up after 10 pages.

  12. Um, Art, the problem with this book is that it’s TOO juvenile. You make it sound like we don’t like it because it’s overly complex or heavy-handed. Not the case. We don’t like it because we’re discriminating readers who don’t like simplistic junk (a la Da Vinci Code) and we find grammatical errors in an internationally acclaimed bestseller to be distracting.

  13. Of course its crap. I turn the pages as eagerly as anyone, but in the midst of it you become aware of what a preposterous ride your being taken on….and then go on to find out what happens next. The writing in the original is not much better, though “someone quite else” makes me think the translator has Swedish rather than English as his native language. More on this here..

  14. Obviously he posted your comment so it’s not like he’s trying to hide the supporters entirely, but beyond that, you have to face the fact that a lot of people don’t like this book and the only way they probably stumbled on this page is by searching for others that likewise hated the book. I got through the first two sentences in the book and gave up. Then I searched “girl with the dragon tattoo translation problems” because I was curious if that was the problem and not just awful writing. I’m sure if english was your second language and you had a really long attention span, it would make this book many times more enjoyable, but it wasn’t for me, and this page is up to show the other side of the story.

  15. Yes! It’s ghastly writing (in my opinion being a translation is no excuse), worse even than anything by John Grisham or Dan Brown. I can’t bring myself to wade through such stilted, clumsy prose.
    After seeing the movies I was looking forward to reading the trilogy, but no longer.


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