The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Vintage 2009) by Stieg Larsson (author) and Reg Keeland (translator) is the first book in the Millennium Trilogy, set in Sweden.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was the biggest bestseller last year. The original, Swedish title was “Män som hatar kvinnor” which translates to “Men That Hate Women.” Apt and sad to say that it’s a prevailing theme in this story (or series).
The main protagonist in the story is a financial reporter who gets fined and sentenced to jail for writing libelous content about a corrupt businessman. He steps down as publisher of the magazine that he co-founded,The Millennium and reluctantly takes up as an amateur investigator.
The story is broken down into four parts. The first part of the story shows one of the principal characters, Mikael Blomkvist’s fall into disgrace as he is indicted and sentenced to six months in prison for publishing fraudulent information in his magazine about Swedish businessman, Hans-Erik Wennerström. It is also referred to as “The Wennerström Affair.”
Something went wrong with the story that Mikael wrote about Wennerström, who everybody knows is corrupt. He had a credible source, an old college friend but then along the way something happened and Mikael felt that there was nothing that he could do about it at this point. So he’s charged with fraud and awaits trial.
Instead of fighting the indictment, Blomkvist folds. He accepts his sentence and steps down as publisher in order to save his magazine. Advertisers have fled. The media has torn him and his magazine to shreds. There’s nothing left for him to do but bide his time and figure out his next move.
But into the picture steps Henrik Vanger, a wealthy industrialist and leader of the Vanger family dynasty. He seeks out Blomkvist to ask him to do him a service. He wants Blomkvist to investigate the disappearance of his great niece, Harriet Vanger, who disappeared more than 36 years ago.
Blomkvist learns quickly that the Vanger family are quite…dysfunctional. There’s a lot of disdain and annoyance toward Henrik because of his obsession with finding Harriet. Most of his family members refer to his search for Harriet as his “hobby.” At any rate, Blomkvist moves into a cottage on the island where the girl went missing and starts his investigation under the guise of writing an autobiography about the Vanger family. It’s a really old case, what could Blomkvist find at this late date?
The story didn’t start to really take off for me until I finally met the girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander. She’s an asocial, anorexically thin 25 year old woman with piercings on her face and a lot of tattoos on her body. With that image most people assume she’s a freak or a punk. A self-image that Salander herself perpetuates. But we learn that she’s a genius with Asperger syndrome. Her behavior at times is taciturn, violent and unpredictable. But she’s an outstanding researcher and an excellent hacker.
She unexpectedly teams up with Blomkvist as his research assistant to help him find the missing Harriet Vanger. The two also become lovers. While the mystery itself takes center stage, it’s the dispute between Wennerström and Mikael Blomkvist that concludes the story and what a story it is!
I enjoyed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but this isn’t a story for everybody. First of all, the author almost always prefaced some of his chapters with dismal statistics about abuse towards women or how many women go missing each year in Sweden. Depressing. In the story itself, Salander suffers from sexual abuse at the hands of her guardian. She gets him back of course.
Salander was declared legally incompetent (due to some childhood incidents) and has always had a guardian who controlled her personal finances. Her mother is in a nursing home and I assume she had Alzheimer’s disease. I felt really bad for Salander at one point in the story. Her previous guardian gave her a lot more control and encouraged her independence. After he died, she had to revert all financial control over to a man who was a sexual deviant.
The one thing that made me really like Salander was the fact that she didn’t tolerate men who hated women. She fought back, kicked ass and took names. It wasn’t as easy as that but yes, she did get her revenge and quite nicely too. Sometimes I was exasperated with her lack of social skills even though I know it’s not her fault. But her relationship with Blomkvist proves to be good for her. Her relationship with him brings about some subtle changes in her personality. She even falls in love with him.
Salander proves to be a good ally/researcher for Blomkvist and even helps him in his revenge against Wennerström. But Blomkvist has a rather complex relationship with his editor-in-chief, Erika Berger, a woman who is married but she’s Blomkvist best friend and occasional lover. Will Salander wrest him away from her?
To sum up this book, I will quote from this article:
At its heart, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not so very different. It is a book about the failure of Swedish society to effectively respond to social ills at all levels. White-collar criminals are treated like celebrities and the press turns a blind eye. Women suffer inordinately at the hands of men in power — government officials, family members, even lovers — and have no recourse but to become vigilantes, protecting themselves where the social system has been utterly impotent.
That’s it in a nutshell. Overall, I thought the start of the book was a bit frenzied and all over the place but it was an ambitious start. The prologue with the pressed flowers had a sinister feel to it. Harriet Vanger was known to send her great-uncle pressed flowers every year on his birthday.
What’s strange is that a year after her disappearance, Henrik Vanger starts to receive pressed flowers every year on his birthday thereafter. Is this the taunt of a killer? The story does move into a more comfortable pace after things settle down. The narrative is told mostly in present tense. I was amused at how many authors (Val McDermid) were mentioned in here since Blomkvist is a reader.
The ending had a twist to it that I didn’t see coming from maybe lack of attention to details. Savvy readers will probably have figured some things out on their own. I had my ideas but none of them panned out. There are scenes of violence towards women that may make some readers uncomfortable (made me nauseous).
I’m now reading the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire. It’s criminal that the last book isn’t due out until May. But then I’ve decided I can wait. I’m depressed that three books are all we’ll ever read about these characters. I so enjoyed this story despite the violence and other flaws (nothing worth mentioning though). My grade, B+. I can see this being a reread as it is a rather complex, meaty, character driven murder mystery.