Part One of the Milleniun trilogy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, introduces us to journalist Mikael Blomkvist and computer hacker and social outcast Lisbeth Salander. It’s an intelligent thriller with a conscience, with a complicated plots that demands concentration to match.
Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family. He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.
The novel is split between the shady secrets of the wealthy Vanger family and the murky dealings of a famous businessman. One flaw that many have commented on is that the central drive of the book does take a little while to get going. The first 50 pages or so are Larsson giving us the background to the Wennerstrom affair and while it may seem irelevant at first, by the conclusion it all comes together. Some may find like I did that it was difficult to get in to initialy, with a variety of unusual Swedish names to keep track of, but its not long until the pace picks up.
The story begins by focusing on Blomkvist, a journalist just as Larsson was, but once Salander arrives the focus of the novel shifts. She’s one of the most interesting heroines of late, lacking in people skills but making up for it with her fierce intelligent. She operates on the edge of society, preferring to be on the fringes, where she feels more comfortable and accepted. While she may seem to be single-minded and at time vicious, Salander is also incorruptible with a strong moral code. She is the most ‘good’ of all the ‘good guys’ in the book.
Despite this, it can be a brutal book, as it examines sex and violence, particularly towards women. Some may feel that it even oversteps the mark, but here Larsson is creating a dark story which reflects something of the darker side of life in Sweden. There has been arguements of late regarding Larsson’s attitudes towards women and the interpretation of feminism within the novel but it’s a difficult one to judge. If Larsson was with us today, he would no doubt be able to defend the accusations made towards the trilogy.
Larsson may also need to defend his writing style, as at times it falters where Larsson adds in a few too many details to the story. I don’t think we really need to know the exact type of laptop a character is using, or the precise food they eat for breakfast. In the case of the laptop, we are also lectured on the merits of certain models but it also instantly dates the novel. Perhaps it was the case of the translation but at times it does become a little too ‘clunky’ for my liking. Larsson is a little blunt in expressing his opinions and his politcal views are hardly disguised at all. It also comes close to stretching credibility, as Blomkvist certainly manages to jump into bed with a number of women. Perhaps a little bit of wishing thinking on the author’s part?
Despite its flaws, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was one of those rare books which I read it ferociously and then when I stopped, it was all I could actually think about. The way the plots intertwine, along with the interesting characters somehow grabbed and then dominated my attention throughout. Quite simply, I adored it and would recommend this intelligent, thought-provoking and adult thriller to anyone.