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Larsson's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

November 5, 2010 - Jodelle Greiner
I like watching “CBS Sunday Morning” and they recently had a segment about Stieg Larsson, the Swedish journalist who wrote the Millennium trilogy that’s sweeping the publishing world.

You’ve probably seen the books: “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest”. (Note: the books were originally published under different Swedish titles in Sweden.) They’ve sold over 20 million copies and counting, but Larsson didn’t live to see his own success. He died at age 50 on Nov. 9, 2004, just months after delivering the manuscripts for the three books.

I had known about the books before the segment aired and had been debating whether I wanted to read them. After the show, I thought “Why not?” and picked up a copy of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

The book was originally published under the name “Men who hate women” in Sweden in 2005, and that would be a very apt title.

The story centers on Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who has just lost a libel suit to billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. He receives an offer from the 84-year-old retired businessman Henrik Vanger to find out what happened to his great-niece, Harriet, who disappeared at age 16 nearly 40 years ago. Vanger believes Harriet to be dead, even though her body was never found, and all he wants is for Blomkvist to attack the mystery like the investigative journalist he is.

Blomkvist is not interested in Vanger’s plight; he just wants to lick his wounds — besides, he will have to serve a three-month prison term as part of his punishment for losing the libel case.

Then Vanger sweetens the deal: if Blomkvist will only try to find out who killed Harriet, Vanger will give him incriminating evidence on Wennerstrom. Of course, Blomkvist takes the deal.

Larsson writes a very complex story. There’s a lot of financial and business jargon, which for me was more than a bit mind-numbing. He also rails about racism and violence against women. All of it enters into the story’s plot in extreme fashion and Larsson is very explicit in his descriptions. If this book were a movie, it would get an “M” rating, for mature audiences only. If you don’t have a strong stomach, you should think twice about reading this book.

Another aspect of this book is the verrrry casual sex. Example: Blomkvist has an on-and-off sexual relationship with his business partner and editor, Erika Berger, who happens to be married. And guess what? Erika’s husband knows all about the relationship and doesn’t mind when his wife spends the night with her boyfriend. (Really?!?) And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“But it’s called ‘The GIRL With The Dragon Tattoo’,” you ask. “What about her? Where does she come in?”

Yes, that would be Lisbeth Salander, the pierced and tattooed enigma.

For the first half of the book, I felt that Larsson was telling two completely unrelated stories because the only connection between the two main characters was that Lisbeth was asked to investigate Blomkvist by Vanger’s lawyer, prior to him offering Blomkvist the job. But Lisbeth’s story does prepare the reader for events later in the book.

Lisbeth’s backstory plays into the violence-against-women part of the storyline. But petite Lisbeth doesn’t take her abuse lying down; she’s a vigilante and you can’t help but cheer her for having the strength to stand up for herself. Warning: Lisbeth does not believe in going to the police, but she’s very intelligent and sets up her abuser in such a way he... well, trust me, the girl gets the job done.

Lisbeth is an intriguing character, I do have to admit. She’d not your typical heroine, but like I said, you do wind up rooting for her and you do hope she can beat the odds. You know she’s not going to wind up married living in a house with a white picket fence — this is not that kind of story — but you do hope the girl can find some peace of mind in the end.

And maybe that’s the point of the story — that no matter what you go through, you can survive, even thrive.

This is not an easy story to read due to all the violent content. For as harsh of a story as it is, Larsson manages to work in some pleasant surprises of love and loyalty. If you don’t like your fiction in cookie cutter form, you might find “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” gives you something to think over, long after the last page is read.


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