Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – Stieg Larsson

Since I am Swedish, it seems somewhat odd that I seem to be the last person to have read Stieg Larsson’s wildly successful Millennium trilogy. I have finally gotten around to it, starting of course with the first novel. For the record, I read it in the original Swedish.

The novel has two protagonists, middle-aged muckraker journalist Mikael Blomkvist and twenty-five year old sociopathic hacker genius Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist is hired to dig into a forty-year old murder mystery by an old industrialist. Salander is a researcher, expert at finding the dirt on people, who becomes involved in the investigation. What they finally find is shocking beyond their wildest expectations.

I am often irrationally suspicious when an author becomes universally acclaimed by both critics and public, and this is perhaps why it took me so long to get around to reading The Girl with the Dragon  Tattoo. But I also do not mind being proven wrong. This novel is certainly one of the finest I have read in a long time. The characters are deep, interesting and “different”. They do not fit any preconceived molds but are very real and believable. Salander especially is a very peculiar character to say the least, but Larsson adeptly makes her plausible and even sympathetic. This even though she certainly is not a sympathetic person by any normal definition. She is almost the comic relief versus Blomkvist’s straight man in a twisted sort of way. The story is excellent, but the book is at heart a character study of the two protagonists. And that is the key to its genius.

The pacing is not perfect, faltering a bit in the slow middle part, but overall it is very good. The story itself is complex without being hard to follow, supporting the plot perfectly. The device of the age old mystery of Harriet’s disappearance set against the backdrop of the intricacies of Vanger family politics is simply superb. And even when you think it is all over, over a tenth of the book is left, with a very extended epilogue that is still satisfying, possessing the same page-turning quality as the rest of the book. The language is elegant without being pompous, with clever turns of phrase in support of the story but never for their own sake.

One thing I do wonder about, and which is not really a reflection on the book’s merit, is how a person without any Swedish background experiences the novel. Many behaviors, locations and situations are so very Swedish that they would seem hard to translate. I guess I will never know.

6 Replies to “Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – Stieg Larsson”

  1. I have been trying for ages to get a look at the back cover of the Swedish edition of this book. Could you send me a picture of it, or at least the blurb?

    1. Hi Sophie. I read it as an ebook so I never got to see the back cover. It was published by Månpocket and if memory serves the back covers from that house are pretty generic. The blurb in Swedish is here: http://www.manpocket.se/Bocker/Bokpresentationssida/?Isbn=9789170013683.

      Roughly translated: “People always have secrets. It’s about figuring out which. On 22 September 1966, sixteen year old Harriet Vanger disappears without a trace. Almost forty years later journalist Mikael Blomkvist gets an unusual assignment. He is contacted by industrialist Henrik Vanger, who wants him to write the family’s history. However, the chronicle is only a cover for the real mission: figuring out what really happened with Harriet. Mikael, who has recently been found guilty of defamation, feels that he needs a break in his work at the magazine Millenium and so takes on the job. He gets help from young, difficult computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. Together the odd couple starts digging in the history of the Vanger family, finding a a darker and bloodier story than they could ever imagine.”

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