Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

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(MacLehose Press, January 2008)

Stieg Larsson why on EARTH, did you have to go and die on us? Pardon the crude introduction that may pass off Larsson’s death with a certain degree of flippancy and scant respect for his passing but HONESTLY. WHY.

Larsson has produced the kind of book that makes me live in fear of reading the next because inevitably the more you read, the less there is to read.

The Millennium Trilogy, for which the first book The Girl with Dragon Tattoo I have bent myself into the hunched position of a blind hanging sloth for (as hours spent frozen on the sofa without sleep or glasses will do to you) is a gutsy stunner.

It is just my sort of book and will be yours too. I bought mine in WhSmith for £7.99 and received The Girl Who Played with Fire for a £1, but with a deal, without a deal- don’t window shop- just read it.

Now that’s sufficiently drummed in I feel happy to talk about why you yourself must develop a squint and a nocturnal habit for this trilogy. The right kind of thick at 533 pages, this is a plot crammed with intelligent blood.

The novel begins as journalist and editor of Millennium magazine Mikael Blomkvist, is up to his neck in a libel case. Having defamed the power-hungry financier Wennerstrom by exposing without sufficient evidence how state money meant for industrial investment was used for illicit arms deals, Blomkvist is on the brink of bankruptcy and ill repute.

Subsequently Henrik Vanger, head of the infamous dynastic Vanger Corporation becomes aware of Blomkvist’s notorious talent for unearthing ugly skeletons and summons Blomkvist to dust off one of his own. Vanger barters that he will commission Blomkvist to write a biography of Vanger family history for a few million kroner and throw in a juicy secret about Wennerstrom to boot, if Blomkvist does what Vanger really wants, which is to uncover which of his relatives killed family member Harriet Vanger.

What commences would make any investigative journalist turn in his NCTJ membership. Blomkvist agrees and moves to a suitably spooky, murky town in Sweden with the intention that he solves the murder.

Like any young action hero/pale and interesting young writer, Blomkvist has a lot of sex- usually with troubled women who are already married and reckless. Lisbeth Salander is no exception but is no one’s mistress. (This would also be a good time to add that the film adaption of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo will star Bond man Daniel Craig as Blomkvist.) Salander is one of the best heroines on my bookshelves.. Barely there (she is described by many characters in the book as anorexic but tucks into more than one open sandwich with pickles in 500+ pages) that does not stop her emphatic support for sex, guns and gadgets and life led as a genius computer hacker, spy and vigilante, covered in tattoos and piercings which act as cathartic expressions of past, grisly encounters with unsavoury male characters. Salander is not your average girl.

And that is the point. The reader is frequently reminded that women in Sweden get a rough deal, and Salander is the defiant, imperfect survivor of its state. Scenes of sexual violence in the book pop up with disturbing regularity and dominance, ascendancy and control plaintively addressed by Larsson with explicit reference to sexuality, religion and politics and the psycho-biography of serial rapists and killers is given a good going over too.

Larsson himself was a journalist and expert on anti-democratic, right-wing extremist and Nazi organisations, an aficionado of the dark and shadowy underworlds that provide seductive frames for his books. His unexpected death in November 2004 is a mystery in itself, conspiracy theories abound but the phenomenon of his books as a fat piece of great crime writing, simply told with arcane characters is not.

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