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October 22, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Title:The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson

Book Review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, a Swedish journalist, is the current novel chosen by iBrowse, a  Book Club that I have recently joined. "A rip-roaring serial killer adventure"  - wrote a reviewer. A combination of sex, violence and crime?  Not my favourite kind of fiction,  I thought, as I picked up the book without much enthusiasm.

The blurb said that  it is an international bestseller, the first of Larsson's Millennium Trilogy with sales exceeding 50 million copies in 46 countries, A Million Kindle Books.  It was also made into a hit film. Larsson died suddenly, before any of his three  novels could be  published. My interest was kindled (pardon the pun). After the first few chapters, I was drawn into the net.

Henrik Vanger, the head of a well-established Swedish corporation, hires Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist, to look into the mysterious disappearance of his great-niece Harriet Vanger who has been missing - or dead - for forty years.  Blomkvist is aided in his investigations by Elsbeth Salander, an expert young security specialist and hacker.

One follows Blomkvist as he goes into the complicated history of the large Vanger clan, looking for clues to the sudden disappearance of Harriet. He discovers that the Vanger family has a murky  past, with many skeletons in  cupboard. But there's no trace of Harriet.

The plot develops a new dimension with the entrance of  Elsbeth Salander. She is by turns victim, sleuth and avenger. The course of their joint investigations cranks up the tension, as a good crime thriller should.  What they find behind the respectable front of the Vanger family  is a saga of  extreme psychotic behaviour - sexual abuse, violence, deception and murder.

My Comments
The book is peppered with gruesome rapes, violence, dysfunctional families, ruthless financiers, spineless journalists and large-scale corporate fraud. Along the way, one gets an insider's unvarnished view of Swedish society.

Some of the references to Swedish politics and history had me groping in the dark; but I have to admit that my ignorance of the topics is the likely reason. I felt that the lengthy descriptions of the failed police investigations into Harriet's disappearance quite tedious and pointless. The depictions of sexual abuse were too graphic and revolting. On a lighter note, I had a problem pronouncing unfamiliar European names.

I think that Larsson modelled Mikael Blomkvist on himself, a journalist with a social conscience. A quote from Chapter 3 underscores his position: "His contempt for his fellow financial journalists was based on something that was as plain as morality. The equation was simple. A bank director who blows millions on foolhardy speculations should not keep his job. A managing director who plays shell company games should do time. A slum landlord who forces young people to pay through the nose and under the table for a one-room apartment with shared toilet should be hung out to dry."

I like what Robert Dessaix says about Larsson in The Sydney Morning Herald : "His favourite targets are violence against women, the incompetence and cowardice of investigative journalists, the moral bankruptcy of big capital and the virulent strain of Nazism still festering away ..." in Sweden. 

The Wennerstrom story is skillfully interwoven with the main thread of the novel, adding depth and interest. Salander's role in his ultimate downfall is superb.  

Larsson's portrayal of Elsbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, is intriguing. Her physical appearance as a pale,  4'11" girl wearing tattoos and funky clothes provides a fascinating contrast to her  enigmatic personality - brilliant, amoral, asocial, fearless, individualistic and vindictive. She goes about alternately like a zombie and an avenging angel with a flaming sword. However, her weapons are modern - a motorbike, a laptop and electronic gizmos.  One gets occasional glimpses of her soft and vulnerable side when she visits her sick mother and later at her funeral.  Salander is not sweet and lovable, but she is absolutely unforgettable. Among the many reviews here, I go with this one: "The intensity of her personality will burn in your memory well after reading  the book. "

A gripping story. Brilliant writing. An engrossing read.

1 comment:

Marianne de Nazareth said...

Strange how I saw the same point as you did that Larsson saw himself as Mikael Blomkvist and made a note to bring that out in the meeting!!

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