The illiterary review

Posted: 23rd July 2010 by Get No Happy in Reviews

Girl with the dragon tattoo
The novel, and the proper novel rather than a “novelization”.

There are really only two ways to adapt a book; You can either produce a 14hour opus a la “Lord of the Rings” that tries to squeeze in as much content as possible, or produce a merry jaunt that is more abstractly inspired by the source. To extend the metaphors further, one is freshly squeezed orange juice, the other is water ‘infused with the flavor of orange’. The best example of the latter being Jurassic Park. For the sake of pacing much of the overt discussion of the unaccountability of corporations, folly of science and chaos theory were avoided; they’re all present, but in a subtext that doesn’t bog down the general narrative.


If you’d sit still I could explain the inherent instability of complex systems 

I say this because reading the novel has made like the film even more than I initially did. This isn’t to say the novel is bad, as you’ll see I really enjoyed it, but the film manages to distill the mystery/crime thriller aspect into something far purer than present in the source material. The process does strip the story of certain interesting themes, but allows for a far better cinematic experience. Anyway…

The Good
Firstly, it’s very well written; compelling, easy to read without being simple, there are no glaring plot holes to speak of, and the few places where the narrative seems a little disjointed I can happily put down to the work being translated. As stated above the book is much less a direct mystery as it is a treaty on the life and times of Mikael Blomkvist…


… or to give him his full name “Steig Larsson” – more on this later. 

as he deals with a serious libel case, a complex sex life, the machinations of the Vanger family and of course the titular tattooed female. It actually succeeds very well in combining these very different elements into a coherent story and there’s never a point where you find yourself wanting to skip or avoid certain sub-plots. Each has it’s highlights and if I’m honest I found the libel/corruption thread more compelling than the murder the overall narrative is framed around. In fact, whereas in the film this was the focus, here the search for Mr Vanger’s niece feels at times more like a maguffin.

Separately I was told the piece is very anti corporate but I must say I didn’t find this: Certainly Mr Larsson has little to say in their favour (and being halfway through Robert Peston’s engaging guide to private-equity and hedge fund I can’t disgree) but he’s clearly against corrupt business rather than capitalism per se. In fact Steig saves most of his ire and vitriol for lazy and incompetent journalists as they are not fulfilling their role, as he sees it, as the informal police of said capitalism. On this issue the chip on his shoulder could feed Africa for a few days.

The Bad
Now I did enjoy the book, it’s a great read and everyone should buy it. But it’s not perfect.

There are a number of issues but I’ll get the smallest out of the way. There are a lot of coincidences. All too often the solution to puzzle B that unlocks level-2 involves enough synchronicity to give Jung an orgasm; too many times strings of unlikely events converge and “just the right thing happens” to cause a realisation. This is a standard literary device but it occurs an awful lot and is compounded by the fact Chekhov has left enough guns lying around to equip a middling inner-city comprehensive. It’s only a niggle, but does deflate much of the tension.

However, the biggest issues are the two main characters, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander – though with the caveat that I’ve not yet read the 2nd or 3rd part so development could take place. Now, it’s not so much that anything proceeding this sentence effects the story as such… it’s just… they’re just too bloody perfect, even their imperfections are perfect imperfections. It’s irritating. There is a long history of lead characters acting as little more than wish-fulfilling avatars for their respective creators but Mikael Blomkvist is just too good.


although I avoid this in my new book “Adventures of a Human Ecologist” 

He’s divorced and rarely sees his children, but gets on really well with his ex and her new man and there is no animosity from said children; He’s completely committed workaholic yet still finds the time to effortlessly attract women; he never has a irrational reaction or thought, even when in context (e.g. female hysteria) such an outburst would be normal; he was in a band that released a signal for God’s sake. Hell he doesn’t even lust for understandable revenge. I could go on but you get the idea, Mikael Blomkvist is the worlds best person. Or rather Steig Larsson is was.

Then we come to Lisbeth Salander:
– She’s a social recluse who dresses in a super-dooper non conformist way…
– She doesn’t obey or like the rules of social interaction or society at large…
– but there’s something about her all the main characters find compelling…
– She has a dark secret in her past…
– She may in fact be the worlds best hacker…

While it would be unkind to suggest she is but an enchanted amulet away from changing her name to Mary Sue, and it is true she gets raped a bit, Lisbeth comes pretty damn close. The last point on the list is partly responsible for the above story criticisms; most of the serious issues are only solvable as Larsson fortuitously spent Lisbeth’s XP on computer skills as opposed to energy weapons, and the contribution these skills make to the epilogue in particular creates a very literal deus ex machina.

Despite the above, I recommend the book. It is very good and the issues mentioned above, while annoying, rarely interfere with either the narrative or the general reading experience. Honestly, it was only after finishing the story that many of the points really coalesced in my thoughts. In fact I’ve probably been a bit overly critical (Perhaps because being bitter is far more entertaining); the protagonist’s inherent goodness does get frustrating at times, especially when his reaction is contrary to what everyone else would do, but I was too engrossed in his trials and tribulations for it to bother me much at the time.

If nothing else, that a day after I finished reading …Dragon Tatoo saw me the proud owner of volume 2 & 3 says more about the quality of the story than I could here.