The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo review
Sweden's Bleak Image
- "Women disappear all the time. Nobody misses them. Immigrants. Whores from Russia. Thousands of people pass through Sweden every year."
When you take the original title from the Swedish novel and translate it to English, your immediate assumption is that you're about to read into Sweden during a predominantly male-dominated society. And while said assumption is on the right course, there's nothing that can prepare you for the roller coaster you're about to experience. 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' is an extremely kind title compared to its original; Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women). For the most part, the novel deals with the behaviour and social ethics of - particularly - men through the 20th century and early 21st century in Sweden.
Recurring themes such as sadism, sexism, murder, racism and suicide set the tone from the off and certainly don't portray Sweden in an award-winning light. Henrik Vanger (owner of Vanger Corporations; a household industrial company name in Sweden during the 1900s) hires male journalist Mikael Blomkvist to re-open a 40+ year-old cold case of his niece Harriet's disappearance on Hedeby Island, 1966. Blomkvist is left with little choice after recently losing a messy libel case against financier hotshot Hans-Erik Wennerström. His idea was to lay low from his 'now-on-its-knees' magazine Millenium for a while, and Henrik's proposal offered the perfect excuse to move to Hedeby for the year.
Henrik has always believed that Harriet's disappearance was no coincidence, and that she had been murdered in 1966 during a family/company get-together on Hedeby Island - going as far as accusing a family member of the crime. It's apparent after just a brief time with Henrik that Mikael realises the family have had some disagreements in the past. As soon as the reader gets in touch with the family background - and boy are the numbers of family members overwhelming at first - the plot thickens and becomes intriguing as untested doors of the mystery are unlocked by Mikael and his 'research assistant' Lisbeth Salander, when both find out that Harriet's case is connected to several unsolved murder cases - all female victims - during the 1950s and 1960s.
This said "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is not Harriet Vanger, but in fact Lisbeth Salander, a 24-year-old independent female with a journalistic talent many would kill for. She is in fact, the heart of the novel as her character is so peculiar and interesting right from the moment we're introduced to her. Unlike her female peers - who for the most part lack an independent existence throughout the book - she is predominantly strong and the dominant, misogynistic and sadistic nature of Sweden is most apparent in her view on relationships; when prompted about her relationship with Blomkvist, her response is "I like having *bleep* with you"; furthermore when they've finished their assignment, she feels as though Mikael no longer has any use for her - "What do you need me for?"
As appealing as this novel is, it's not for the faint-hearted and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to those who are easily disturbed by a macabre sequence of events. A lot of the book's energetic moments include scenes of sadistic nature, murder, *bleep* and - almost putting it kindly - severe misogyny. It also has a strong political aspect that not all would be too keen on. However, I have very little interest in politics myself and I found the industrial stories very intriguing. Even the Blomkvist/Wennerström case was one I really couldn't wait to conclude. The majority of characters are extremely credible too - and given how many characters the novel includes, that's extremely impressive. It isn't long before you make your decision on whether you think a character is amazing, a cow or a sadistic bastard (you'll experience a few of them, don't worry). Overall the novel is extremely impressive - Stieg's ability to create such an intriguing atmosphere, characterisation and conversation is overwhelming - without always having an adrenaline-based scenario. The ending seems a little lackluster, but after all; that's what sequels are for.
OVERALL RATING: 9/10
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