Having seen the movie and read the novel, I have to say that the movie adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is vastly superior, and also much more entertaining than the novel.
Which isn’t to say that the novel is desperately poor, but it is unjustifiably long, with vast stretches that are not only superfluous, but simply unnecessary, such as Blonkvist’s affair with Cecilia, which I found distracting, utterly pointless, and excruciatingly repetitive — just how many times did Blonkvist call or visit Cecilia’s house?
Apparently, the rule in writing is show don’t tell. I personally don’t totally agree with this rule, so long as the “tell” is justifiable and in context. Larsson dedicates vast portions of exhaustive (and exhausting) cryptic exposition to Salander’s life up front, which I found to be so extensive, that it interrupted the flow, and I would on occasion lose track of where the characters were and what they were supposed to be doing
I must confess, there is something compelling about Larsson’s style of writing and the byzantine interweaving story threads (a trait common to several of my own novels). However, the feeling is one of academic curiosity rather than literary entertainment, as if reading a report of a dastardly crime, one writ free of emotive diversions. But at the same time, the sheer profligacy and tedium of unnecessary minutia are an anchor weighing very, very heavily throughout.
The dispassionate and clinical nature of Larsson’s writing style isn’t without its flaws. In places, it came over so rigidly that the expectation of him mentioning the pine scented forests of Sweden, akin to the odour of detergents, would have made me laugh at the irony. In fairness, at times, that efficiency (of style, rather than of writing) was justifiable, such as with the exposition of Salander’s hitherto unmentionable early, deeply troubled upbringing. However, a departure from this style would have helped engender some feeling or attachment to the characters, most of which I would feel nothing towards, had I not seen the movie. Salander is not merely emotionally underdeveloped, but almost lobotomised, so how is she even capable of any form of self analysis? Blonkvist just feels flat and insubstantial.
Larsson clearly felt compelled to draw the reader into the homogeny of Blonkvist’s life at the cabin on Hedeby island — monotonous days, blending into weeks, merging into months — to such a degree that I had to live through many of them and their endless routines (he made coffee, he ate sandwich, he thought for a long time, he read a report, he visited Suzanne’s Bridge Café, he went for a walk, he bought groceries, he smoked a cigarette) over and over and over again. That said, within the hum-drum of Blonkvist’s domestic island life, there are some excellent observations of human behaviour, mostly subtle and simple, but precise and delivered with the expediency that Larsson is / was adept at.
The story is broadly interesting and buried in subtle layers, which are often revealed in intriguing and very balanced and natural ways, once you subtract the aforementioned repetition and wastefulness. An example would be how Blonkvist’s daughter provided a crucial clue, or how Blonkvist tireless examination of the family photography unearthed clues of their own. But I have to say, as Blonkvist and Salander eventually dug their way towards the truth, the treatment of the serial murderer came over in too great a haste. Given that I’d already trudged so far, I wasn’t given the chance to savour any of the subtleties.
Anyone who’s familiar with Silence of the Lambs will have detected the routine almost immediately — take a genius, give them a disturbed childhood, make him a serial killer, and include the obligatory fantastical pattern to attach their murderous proclivities to. At least in the movie, tedium was substituted with cinematic tension.
The overwhelming effect is that I’m reading two different novels, one that just happens to have emerged from the other, whereas I didn’t have this feeling at all when watching the movie. Yes, the novel holds together, but the time between the Wennerstrom affair at the beginning and its resurrection and subsequent conclusion towards the end gives the feel of a denouement that’s lost its way. The whole thing is just too sprawling.
Perhaps like Salander or Blonkvist, I need to consider what I’ve read for a very long time, because I’m unsure if my time is likely to be invested wisely reading the remainder of the trilogy, especially if they’re to be adapted into movies, which I would hope maintain the high quality of the first, which eclipses the novel is almost every single regard.
I gave The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 3 out of 5 stars, whereas I gave the movie 5.