The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: A Thriller With Feminist and Anti-Establishment Tendencies

Have you ever read a book you liked so much that you found yourself mimicking its rhythms, taking up its habits, letting it colour your entire day?

I finished The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo last weekend (and by finished I mean read the last 3/4. This is an 800+ page book so I really wasn't doing anything else). This book floored me and I'm a cynical old bitch so a book has to be damn good to garner even the smallest reaction.

It's a thriller so it's cleanly written, fast-paced and full of naughty things like sex crimes, unsolved mysteries, foreign locations, bad guys and good guys. What gives the book its edge is its comment on corporate corruption, greed and power as well as violence against women.

Mikael Blomkvist is a financial journalist and one of the last to report accurately on Swedish corporations. He gets in too deep and is set up and charged with libel. Henrik Vanger, the former CEO of the Vanger Corporation and enemy of the company that set Blomkvist up, makes him a deal - write his family's biography and attempt to solve the disappearance of his niece and he'll give Blomkvist the information necessary to restore his name. Of course, things start spiraling out of control and the services of a petite, sullen, goth hacker named Lisbeth Salander are required to help solve the final leg of the case before either become another victim.

The author, Stieg Larsson, fought against racism and right-wing extremism and was editor-in-chief of Expo, a magazine dedicated to countering racist, right-wing, anti-Semitic and totalitarian organizations. The novel, the first in a trilogy, deeply reflects these sensibilities. Nazism is not banned in Sweden and terrorism associated with its organizations is not uncommon. More so, the novel reflects the need for an honest media and citizens committed to democratic principles (as Larsson appears to believe that large-scale corporations and organizations cannot be trusted to remain uncorrupt, themselves).

The second aspect of this novel that I deeply enjoyed was its feminist sensibilities (the novel's Swedish title can be translated as "Men Who Hate Women"). Blomkvist, while a womanizer, doesn't pander to the women in this novel or doubt their capabilities. The female characters are portrayed as intelligent and independent, though not invulnerable. As Larsson quotes at the beginning of part two, forty-six percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man. The crimes in this novel are especially lurid but not without precedent. Ninety percent of serial killers are, in fact, male. Despite feminism's first, second and third waves, crimes against women still occur at untellable rates globally. And when government disempowers them, as in the case of Lisbeth Salander's guardianship, their position becomes even more vulnerable.

And so, like Blomkvist and Salander, I made pots of coffee, ate their ever-present sandwiches and immersed myself in a level of activism and engagement as well as a thirst for life that I'd almost (sadly) forgotten existed.

[EDIT: More info on Larsson, his legacy and his cult following to be found in this recent National Post article]


mynovelreviews said...

Great review! I'm starting Part 3 and find myself more and more drawn to Lisbeth.

I loved that you mentioned the coffee and sandwiches - I noticed they drink a lot of coffee!

Monica said...

while i really like lisbeth, i didnt really 'believe' the relationship between her and michael.

that's cuz they make really good coffee.. swedish and/or dutch coffee is the absolute best

Just Bynn said...

I've seen this book kicking around my old boarding school and pretty much wrote it off based on the title (the Twilight series and several Gossip Girl books also made their rounds, so maybe my skepticism was well deserved), but reading your review changed my mind, so maybe I'll have to track down a copy and brave the potential connotations of the title...

B.Kienapple said...

I'm hoping that books two and three flesh out the attraction between Lisbeth and Mikael a bit more. They're from different backgrounds, age may be a bit of opposites attract and their mutual thirst for the hunt (to solve mysteries, that is).

And now I'm going to have to get some Swedish coffee to see for myself...


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