Some time ago, I used to avoid reading specific books or authors just because everyone around me would read them. It was the same with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series. Not until a few years ago did I realize that there’s a particular satisfaction in reading a book and then being able to discuss and share your thoughts about it with other people, so my idea of not reading popular titles was, of course, completely wrong from this perspective 🙂
So after hearing so much about this book series, I finally decided to give it a try. I’m almost through the third book now, and I’m happy I decided to read them. I’ve also seen the movie made after Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first in the series, and I definitely think the book is somewhat darker than the movie.
I also have a bit of contextin relation to the Nordic Noir genre and the Nordic culture. Nordic Noir is a genre introduced by movies and novels written in Scandinavia in recent years. It surprises the public by depicting dark, psychologically complex scenes or characters in a realistic, straight-forward manner.
After seeing a few Swedish and Danish movies and TV-shows, I felt more than prepared to go through the Millennium trilogy. I was accustomed to visualizing the horrible, dark scenes and events that are usually rooted in social issues, but take place somewhere the readers expect least.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first book in the series, delivers a page-turning story in the most natural way, without unnecessary adjectives or long descriptions. I think the direct translation of the title from Swedish, “Men who hate women”, describes the story precisely.
Something I liked a lot is that each chapter of the book starts with a short paragraph presenting statistics on abuses against women in Sweden. These figures seem planted at each point of the book on purpose, like a puzzle to solve. Each time, I was certain the chapter was going to be somehow related to the data, and I was always trying to figure out who is going to get in trouble before actually reading through the pages 🙂
The storyline follows a publisher working for a political-financial magazine called Millennium, who gets a job offer from the retired CEO of a large Swedish company. Officially, Mikael Blomkvist is to write the Vanger family’s biography; unofficially, he is to investigate the disappearance of Henrik Vanger’s niece back in 1966. The niece that he assumes was murdered, but who couldn’t be found either alive or dead. In the many years that the police and private investigators had worked on the case, they had been unable to come to a conclusion concerning the girl’s disappearance. Mikael is a bit reluctant at first, but in the end chooses to accept the challenge, given that the old man promises new evidence in a libel case that had costed Blomkvist his reputation.
He unexpectedly gets help from one of the best researchers he could have possibly hoped to meet, young Lisbeth Salander. Quite a character, Lisbeth is described as a sociopath with impressive computer skills. Said to have the shocking appearance of a 14-year old boy, Lisbeth’s body is adorned with piercings and tattoos, one of which depicts a dragon on her back.
Some of the passages can become quite dark and difficult to digest, describing women being sexually and physically abused by men. The characters, however, are in my opinion a bit idealistic. Mikael Blomkvist might be the modern role model from a man’s perspective 🙂 He has, or at least used to have, a successful career, enjoys his share of the media’s lime-light, and is supposedly irresistibly charming, since every single woman in the book feels attracted to him. He also has a longtime lover, Erika, who despite being married spends most of her time with Mikael: her husband, we are told, tolerates the extra-marital relationship, because of his understanding for his wife’s needs; while Erika herself doesn’t mind her lover Blomkvist having relationships with other women. It’s a kind of tangled, multi-level affair, without any of the drama one might usually expect to burst out between parties.
In contrast to Blomkvist, the other main character of the book, Lisbeth Salander, is depicted as a socially-impaired woman who is declared legally incompetent and has a guardian to control her life and finances. She is liked and understood only by a few people who get the opportunity to know her. Although she is often described in the book like a troubled person, her storyline makes the reader root for her, and to see her as a cool character, with a frightening look and amazing intellectual skills. How she manages to pull off all those hacking feats and gather all the needed information is simply unrealistic.
There is also something special in the relationship that develops between Blomkvist and Salander. By the final chapters of the book, both characters are at a better point in their lives compared to where they were in the beginning, and the reader is left hopping a romantic relationship might develop between the two 🙂
Starting out as research work on a family’s chronology, and progressively untangling links between outrageous, unsolved murders and the dark secrets of two generations of the renowned Vanger family, the investigation keeps the reader turning page after page. And the outcome of the shocking family drama is simply unexpected.