The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson, trans. Reg Keeland
London, MacLehose, 2008, 533p
It's not often a book has me sat up late at night, unable to put it down. I usually sucumb to the temptations of sleep. But The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo defied all my expectations - it was incredible.
I am a self-confessed fan of anything Scandinavian, and I have always loved of crime fiction (thanks to my mother's relentless viewing of detective dramas). And of course, I had heard how wonderful and gripping Larsson's writing is, but he just managed to slip under my radar ... until now.
It is a difficult plot to explain without giving too much away. But at it's core, Mikael Blomkvist is a financial journalist whose reputation is ruined when he commits libel against a wealthy businessman, Wennerström. He is offered the chance to escape the media in Stockholm, so travels to Hedeby to ghost-write the biography of another business tycoon, Henrik Vanger. Vanger promises to provide Blomkvist with information with which to ruin Wennerström, if Blomkvist helps Vanger uncover the mystery of the death of his niece, Harriet.
I think part of the challenge was the length of the novel. I knew it would be time consuming, and in the first few pages, the language was challenging and the direction was unclear. The lives of the two main characters do not collide until page 293, meaning the first 292 pages consist of two different plots. In my opinion, Larsson was a genuis to do this - it allowed for incredible character development. Many detective partners are defined in terms of their partnership - from the start of their story, they play off one another, acting as opposites. But in the Millennium series, the characters are given lives and histories outside their partnership.
Thus, for the first part of the novel, Lisbeth Salander lives her everyday life. I would not call it a normal life - she is a highly-skilled computer hacker, working at a security firm. Her job is to run information checks for clients - she is an incredible researcher (I really want her job). She is also the victim of sexual abuse - a theme that is rife throughout the Millennium trilogy.
The plot is intricate and complicated, full of many players and events (Larsson is kind enough to provide the reader with a family tree, as there are many characters connected to the disappearance of Harriet Vanger). The story is full of red herrings and more literal pickled herrings - oh, how the Swedes love their fish. Many crimes are uncovered, some more obvious than others. What I love most is that no one is perfect - there is no unquestionable moral force, as every character is shown as capable of wrong-doing. As such, you love the character, and they become incredibly real.
And you may be interested to know the Swedish title for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is "Män som hatar kvinnor", which literally translated to "men who hate women".