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The best thing to come out of Sweden since Ikea
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
Member Name: berrydelight
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
Advantages: A gripping, well written and mesmerising read
Disadvantages: Graphic, violent complex in places
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is translated from Larsson's native Swedish were the book was perhaps more aptly titled, "Men who hate women." I had been by-passing this on the book shelves for months, watching as it crept up the best sellers list, the front cover features a young women with jet black hair and a dragon tattoo, I was put off and didn't even bother to pick it up therefore it passed me by that this was a thriller, my favourite genre. Whilst having dinner one night my friends simply couldn't believe I hadn't read it and insisted it was brilliant, feeling obliged I borrowed my mum's copy, she was already nose burrowed into the second in the series declaring how spectacular it was. Even with such high accolades that generally come before a fall this is honestly one of the best and most captivating novels I have ever come across.
**The Story **
We begin by meeting Mikel Blomkvist, who like the late author, is a journalist for a magazine, Millenium. Millennium looks at social issues and likes to uncover scandals and it is this investigative work which leads us to meet Mikel just after he has been convicted of libel after publishing a story about business man Hans-Erik Wennerström whilst investigating large scale corporate corruption.
We are also introduced to Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, who is not actually the central character until later in the trilogy. We become quickly aware of Salander's skills as a hacker and therefore private detective and see hints from the start of her disturbed and troubled upbringing.
Following Blomkvist's conviction the future of Millennium looks shaky and it is deemed appropriate for him to escape the lime light for a while. He reluctantly accepts a job to research the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, grand daughter to Henrik Vanger a Swedish industrialist who seems to have infinitely deep pockets and is tormented by the fate of his 16 year old grand daughter 40 years ago. Blomkvist is reluctant to take the post, which is in the back of beyond but is tempted the salary and the offer of information at the end of his task which would help put Wennerstrom away. Harriet's case is a classic base for a thriller, she went missing when it was impossible to leave the island on which Henry's house is based and her body has never been found. What unravels is a dark tale of abuse, sexual violence and dark family secrets. Blomkvist and Salander join forces and between them begin to be involved in some very sinister goings on.
For me its success as a thriller comes from its combination of techniques and the collusion of stories, although I have picked out the central plot various sub plots crop up throughout the book some of which are not explained until later in the trilogy.
Harriet Vanger's disappearance is a classic closed room drama, all the suspects are present so therefore it must be one of them, this immediately creates unrest and scepticism of every person involved. There is also mystery surrounding Blomvist's court case We are fed intriguing tit bits about the central characters, for example we know Salander has some kind of tumultuous past and that it resulted in her being declared incompetent and yet she appears to be amazingly talented leading you to wonder about the circumstances. All of these weave you in as a reader, you hang on to every page and wait impatiently for the truth to prevail.
The novel has an abundance of characters and many of them are continually developed as the trilogy progresses, others are present for a fleeting few chapters, I intend to give a short overview of the main players:-
Blomkvist: An unmarried journalist who has an ongoing relationship with Erika Berger and several other females who crop up in the book. He is the glue in this first novel that binds everyone together and is central to the novel's story. You are drawn to him and Larsson cleverly follows even the mundane details of his life which helps with the novel's pace
Salander: 24, bi sexual IT hacker with a disturbed and seemingly violent background that in turn has produced a sullen, forthright and amazingly intelligent individual, you quickly learn that she is highly ranked amongst global hackers and this element of intrusiveness provides a clever insight into the people she investigates. Despite her disturbed mine, and again all credit to the writer, a bond between reader and Salander is easily created. Although on many levels I could not relate to her the desire and passion to see wrongs against her corrected was admirable, her relationship with her mother also prompted pity that helped re-enforce character/reader relationship.
The Vangers: Henrik the grandfather is a likeable old man and his devotion to solving his granddaughters disappearance is touching, you begin to feel like you knew Harriet as well as all the details of her short life emerge, Martin is Harriet's brother who now heads up the family business and Cecila is her cousin. They all live close to one another and now to Mikel as he works on the case.
Erika Berger: Blomkvist's lover who has a very open and untraditional relationship with her husband. She is also an editor of Millennium and is a good, strong female role in the novel, a contrast perhaps the seemingly endless number of victims you encounter.
The success of any thriller comes in how well the story is plotted out and then wrapped up and this novel does so superbly, subtle hints dropped hundreds of pages before manifest themselves and in the end you are absolutely riveted with all the gory details.
It becomes apparent fairly early on that this is a male author, the references to sex are explicit and clearly every women the main character meets just wants to sleep with him. Some of the scenes depicted in the book are graphic and detail sexual violence on a level that will make you stomach turn, however it is not gratuitous and is well placed. Some of the statistics detailed about the levels of violence shown to Swedish women is disgusting and the author's journalistic skills come out here as he subtly passes comment on the failings of the Swedish system. This is a theme continued into book two.
Several reviews have commented that the use of Swedish locations, words, references to Swedish culture and names have made the novel harder to read. I would agree that the lack of familiarity and occasional use of dialect does make you have to read some sections twice but it certainly does not detract to the novel. Where the author feels it is required he will elaborate on the Swedish system presumably to fill in the gaps of international knowledge.
The mystery and travesty surrounding the author after his death has also heightened the interest in this novel, the story has two prongs: one is that his colleagues and friends seem sceptical that he could have written such a work and second is that his partner of 30 years will be receiving no money that is generated from the novels because Larsson had no will and all of it is going to his father and brother. Your views on this may differ but I feel it is almost inevitable that people will pick holes in a masterpiece and I like the intrigue that surrounds it. For his partner it is clearly a travesty and I hope the situation is resolved.
A must read. Available in all good libraries and bookshops. At 572 pages it also keeps you going for a while.
· ISBN-10: 1847242537
· ISBN-13: 978-1847242532
Summary: A must read