The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
This is going to be a book review of sorts. I just finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. The book is the first of a trilogy written by a Swedish investigative journalist. The books are mystery thrillers, long, intricately plotted, with interweaving storylines and intimate characterizations. I’ve also seen the Swedish movie version of the second book in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and I thought it was excellent. Rumor has it that an English language film is in the works for those of us that are impatient with subtitles.
All three books were wildly popular in Sweden, subsequently translated into multiple languages and became globally successful as well. The books have sold over 20 million copies in 41 countries. He wrote them in his spare time, when he wasn’t working on a magazine that he owned. The books were only published posthumously. In his real life, Stieg Larsson was a powerful crusader for feminism and a Neo-Nazi hunter. He was a passionate communist. He never enjoyed either the proceeds or the prestige of his artistic endeavor.
The first book in the trilogy was titled Men Who Hate Women. That is the literal translation from Swedish to English. Many of the chapters of the book begin with introductions of sad statistics about sexual abuse and domestic violence.
All three books have recurring characters, but the two protagonists are Mikael Blomkvist (as I was reading the book, I translated the name in my mind into Michael Bloomquist) and Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist, an investigative journalist who is the part owner of his own financial news magazine, is obviously modeled after Stieg himself.
Salander is an amalgamation of some female friends and also a bit of her own person. Salander is a private detective with near supernatural computer hacking skills. She has a photographic memory and a social awkwardness that Larsson speculates comes from Asperger’s syndrome, although we are not told that she has ever been diagnosed as such. She is young, countercultural, covered in tattoos and piercings, with punk rocker hair. She’s a petite female version of Sid Vicious.
Salander is cloaked in mystery, and she has a past that she doesn’t reveal to anyone. Her mother has Alzheimers. She loses her to the grave in this book. We know that she had a horribly dysfunctional childhood, to put it mildly, and that she ended up in the court system in Sweden. The details we don’t know, and she won’t share them. She was deemed to be incapable of handling her own affairs and assigned a legal guardian who decides if or when she gets access to her own money.
Make no mistake. Salander is the real hero of the books. I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you (any of them), but it’s safe to say that an anorexic slip of a girl manages to not take any shit off of anyone. This is the real reason that the novels are so popular. It’s not because feminism is making a comeback or even because anyone who reads them gives a crud about women’s rights. It’s because it’s like a good old-fashioned western, with the good guys taking on the bad guys, well, minus the boots, hats and horses. In this case, as in many classic westerns, the good guys are disadvantaged. Salander is undeniably an underdog, and we recognize the legendary quality of an archetypal story and respond accordingly.
There’s been a lot of conjecture, since Larsson’s death, as to whether or not his own death was natural (the people he reported on could be dangerous, and he had been threatened) and as to where he got the inspiration for his books and the characters, particularly that of Salander. Larsson was a middle aged man with high cholesterol and high blood pressure who never exercised, worked around the clock, smoked like a chimney and ate abominably. There’s no mystery there.
As for Salander, there was an article that came out recently that may help to explain where Larsson got his motivation. A friend and colleague named Baksi came forward with a story that he says Larsson related to him. When he was 15 years old, apparently Stieg Larsson witnessed a gang rape. Both the perpetrators and the victim were “friends,” and although he did not participate in the rape he watched and listened and did absolutely nothing to prevent it. Larsson asked the girl for her forgiveness several days later, and she told him that she never would forgive him. The girl’s name was Lisbeth, and the novels are a tribute to her.
One final note about Larsson: sadly, when he died at the age of 50, he had made no provisions for his partner, Eva Gabrielsson. Stieg Larsson had no will. Now his substantial estate will be inherited by his estranged family rather than the woman who shared his bed and his life for 32 years. That is an ironic end for a man who was a self-proclaimed feminist.
Entry filed under: Books, Current Events, Death, Entertainment, Women's Rights, Writing. Tags: Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Investigative journalism, Lisbeth Salander, Mikael Blomkvist, Millennium Trilogy, Stieg Larsson, Swedish literature, The Girl Who Played with Fire.