Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor, by Stieg Larsson)


A twenty-four-year-old computer hacker sporting an assortment of tattoos and body piercings and afflicted with Asperger Syndrome or something of the like has been under state guardianship in her native Sweden since she was thirteen. She supports herself by doing deep background investigations for Dragan Armansky, who, in turn, worries the anorexic-looking Lisbeth Salander is "the perfect victim for anyone who wished her ill." Salander may look fourteen and stubbornly shun social norms, but she possesses the inner strength of a determined survivor. She sees more than her word processor page in black and white and despises the users and abusers of this world. She won't hesitate to exact her own unique brand of retribution against small-potatoes bullies, sick predators, and corrupt magnates alike.

Financial journalist Carl Mikael Blomkvist has just been convicted of libeling a financier and is facing a fine and three months in jail. Blomkvist, after a Salander-completed background check, is summoned to a meeting with semi-retired industrialist Henrik Vanger whose far-flung but shrinking corporate empire is wholly family owned. Vanger has brooded for 36 years about the fate of his great niece, Harriet. Blomkvist is expected to live for a year on the island where many Vanger family members still reside and where Harriet was last seen. Under the cover story that he is writing a family history, Blomkvist is to investigate which family member might have done away with the teenager. Although readers might easily guess early that somehow Blomkvist and Salander would pool their talents to probe the Vanger mystery, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is undeniably captivating and very difficult to put down.

The issue most saturating The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that of shocking sexual violence primarily against women but not excluding men. Salander and Blomkvist both confront prima facie evidence of such crimes. Larsson's other major constituent elements are corporate malfeasance that threatens complete collapse of stock markets and anarchistic distrust of officialdom to the point of endorsing (at least, almost) vigilantism. He also deals with racism as he spins a complex web from strands of real and imagined history concerning mid-twentieth century Vanger affiliations with Sweden's fascist groups.

Larsson's carefully calibrated tale is more than a grisly, cynical world view of his country and the modern world at large. At its core, it is an fascinating character study of a young woman who easily masters computer code but for whom human interaction is almost always more trouble than it is worth, an investigative reporter who chooses a path of less resistance than Salander but whose humanity reaches out to many including her, and some other peripheral characters (such as Armansky), who could have more portions in the book.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in English translation will be followed by two more in the Millennium series: The Girl Who Played with Fire, and
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. Larsson also made a 200-page start on a fourth book, but sadly he succumbed to a heart attack in 2004 and his father decided that the unfinished work will remain unpublished. Larsson was a journalist who disgusted by sexual violence, as he witnessed the gang rape of a young girl when he was 15. He never forgave himself for failing to help the girl, whose name was Lisbeth.

This international bestseller is highly recommended for all who eagerly sift new books for challenging intellectual crime thrillers, who luxuriate in immersing themselves in the ambiance of a compellingly created world and memorable characters, who soak up financial and investigative minutiae as well as computer hacking tidbits, and who want to share Larsson's crusade against violence and racism. - taken from many sources.

(The novel has been adapted into the big screen in 2009. This year, the movie's director, Niels Arden Oplev, won Audience Award at Guldbagge Awards and Palm Springs International Film Festival.)

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