The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is about a misfit girl with a photographic memory and a promiscuous journalist who eventually team up to solve the mystery of a murder that occurred almost 40 years ago.    In this first installment of the Millennium series, you get an introduction to Lisbeth Salander, one of the most intriguing characters I have ever read about.    I was fascinated by her, frustrated by her behavior, shocked by what she was capable of, and at the same time I had immense respect for the workings of her mind.

From the Publisher (Vintage)

A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue.  It’s about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden . . . and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.   It’s about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance . . . and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age—and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it—who assists Blomkvist with the investigation.  Continue reading ...

This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism—and an unexpected connection between themselves. It’s a contagiously exciting, stunningly intelligent novel about society at its most hidden, and about the intimate lives of a brilliantly realized cast of characters, all of them forced to face the darker aspects of their world and of their own lives.

For a book club party, you really do need to read the whole series to understand the characters in depth.   When I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I was entertained, but was left with the feeling of “okay…Salander is odd and Blomkvist is a gigolo.”   Several weeks passed before I went on to the next book in the series.   Within the first few pages of The Girl who Played with Fire, I was so taken into the book, I finished it and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest within 4 days.  I have so much to say about the books, but I will try to keep to the book club party ideas.


Book Club Party Ideas

The book opens with mysterious pressed flowers that  Henrik, the mogul who hires Blomkvist,  receives in the mail every year on his birthday.  Martha Stewart can show you how to make your own pressed flowers – click here.   Yellow and blue decorations will help tie in the Swedish setting of the book.

What to Wear

Lisbeth had a dragon tattoo on her left shoulder blade. Some of her other tattoos include a wasp on her neck, a loop around her ankle,  another one around her biceps, a Chinese symbol on her hip and a rose on her calf.   She had numerous piercings and sometimes wore black lipstick.  Lisbeth wears some interesting t-shirts.  My favorite is “Armageddon was yesterday – Today we have a serious problem”.  Another t-shirt she wore had E.T. on it with the words “I am also an Alien” and yet another said “I can be a regular bitch.  Just try me.”

In honor of Kalle Blomkvist, Pippi Longstocking accessories would make fun decorations.


Book Club Menu

For inspiration about what to make for a Swedish book club party, I turned to the nearby IKEA.   Below is a picture of some of the goodies I found.

Another great resource for Swedish food is a blog called  Anne’s Food.  Here is a link to a post where she answered readers questions about what people in Sweden eat.

In one of the opening scenes Blomkvist enjoyed a Reimersholms brandy, which is a seasoned brandy from Sweden with hints of cumin, anise and fennel.  In another scene he drinks glögg, which is Scandinavian mulled wine.    The main ingredients are red wine, sugar, spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and bitter orange.  Some have  stronger spirits such as vodka, akvavit or brandy.   It is generally served with raisins, blanched almonds and ginger biscuits or snaps.

Scandinavian Glögg

Their food choices in the book were fairly basic…frozen pizza, bagels and lots of coffee.  To give it a more cultural flair,  I decided to go with more traditional Swedish food – Tyler Florence at FoodNetwork.com: Lena’s Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberry Sauce and Mashed Potatoes served with Lingonberry preserves (at Amazon.com).   I did try to make coffee “plainly boiled in a pan in true Norrland style”  (page 89) but there were so many grinds in it, I had to throw it out.

A Swedish treat mentioned in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is Pancakes with Lingonberries (also found at FoodNetwork.com).


Book Club Resources

Ratings and Reviews

Discussion Questions from RandomHouse.com

1. Who do you consider the novel’s protagonist, Lisbeth or Mikael? Why?

2. What point was Larsson trying to make with the themes running through this novel? How do issues such as violence against women, journalistic integrity, and more general notions of trust tie in with each other throughout the book?

3. What function do the sex-crime statistics on each section’s title page serve?

4. Reread the passage from Mikael’s book on page 103. What is its significance in terms of the plot?

5. On page 156, Henrik tells Mikael, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never engage in a fight you’re sure to lose. On the other hand, never let anyone who has insulted you get away with it. Bide your time and strike back when you’re in a position of strength—even if you no longer need to strike back.” Over the course of the novel, who puts this advice to the best use? How, and why?

6. How does the involvement of several Vanger brothers with Swedish fascist groups cloud Mikael’s investigation into Harriet’s disappearance? What role does Harald play?

7. Why does Henrik become an investor in Millennium? Does his plan succeed?

8. Discuss the character of Lisbeth. Some think she is a “perfect victim” (p. 409), others find her intimidating, and Mikael wonders if she has Asperger’s, but the reader is allowed to see exactly how her mind works. How do you see her? How do you think she sees herself?

9. What do you think about the way Lisbeth turns the tables on Bjurman? Is it admirable, or a sign that she’s unstable?

10. On page 254, Lisbeth says her new tattoo is “a reminder.” Of what?

11. Several times in the novel, Mikael’s journalistic ethics are challenged. Do you consider him to be ethical? In your opinion, is anyone in the novel truly honorable? If so, why?

12. After reserving judgment for most of his investigation, Mikael determines that Harriet was, in fact, murdered and that he’s hunting for a killer. What prompts this decision? How does this affect the rest of his investigation?

13. Discuss the role of parents in the novel. Who is a good parent, and why? How might Harriet’s story have changed if her mother had behaved differently? What about Lisbeth’s? Is Mikael a good father?

14. Blackmail is used several times in the novel, for different ends. Who uses it most effectively, and why?

15. On page 507, Mikael tells Lisbeth that to him, friendship requires mutual respect and trust. By those standards, who in this novel is a good friend? Is Mikael? What about Anita?

16. Discuss Henrik’s request that Mikael never publish the Vanger story. Is it a reasonable request? Does Mikael’s acquiescence change your opinion of him? Do Lisbeth’s demands mitigate his ethical breach?

17. What ultimately drives Lisbeth to take action against Wennerström on her own? Does she go too far?

18. Reread Mikael’s statement about the media’s responsibility at the top of page 575. Can you think of a situation in the American media that is analogous to the Wennerström affair?

19. Discuss the ending. Was it satisfying to you? Why or why not?

About the Author

More about Stieg Larsson– I recommend checking out his web site.  His personal story is fascinating and tragic.  There are also lots of discussions going on about the books.