reviews: books: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Girl with Dragon Tattoo [Cross-posted to GoodReads and LibraryThing.]

I work in a bookstore and this arrived as an ARC several days before the promotional material, and thusly the hype surrounding it, arrived. I had no idea upon grabbing it that it was to become of falls “hot new reads.” That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

The back story is this: Stieg Larsson, political journalist and activist in Sweden, completed a trilogy (with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo being the first), which were eventually sold to a publisher. Shortly before the publication of the book, Larsson died of a massive heart attack in 2004. Rumours of his death as not being natural have been swirling, which perhaps have lent greater mystique to the series. The books were published to great acclaim and became international bestsellers. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was released in the U.S. in September, 2008.

Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged journalist/activist, has been found guilty of libel for a piece he wrote against Hans-Erik Wennerström, a corrupt Swedish industrialist. Blomkvist, known for his insightfully and well researched pieces, leaves his old life defeated and broken. He is contacted by Henrik Vanger, an aging patriarch of a well-connected family to help him with one thing: Solve a 40 year old mystery of the possible murder and kidnapping of the patriarch’s beloved niece while working under the guise of researching the Vanger family history. In return, Vanger will hand over evidence to Blomkvist that will nail Wennerström to the wall for good.

What follows is a twisting, complex and at times horrifying, thriller that scourges to the bottom of human nature. As Blomkvist continues to dig into the history of the Vangers, and discovering what actually happened on that fateful day in 1964, the more of the family horrors began to surface.

There is a reason why the book was originally published in Sweden under the title, “Men Who Hate Women.” Larsson is graphic in his descriptions and at times, the brutality of what he describes is off-putting. One one level, are we really all that innocent or are we just oblivious to what happens around us? Are some family histories better left buried or will redemption come if they are unearthed? One would like to think that not all humans can be as bad as apparently some of the Vanger (and other minor characters laced neatly through the book) can be, but on the other, we hear and see about these horrors in our daily news consumption.

Larsson addresses many themes in his novel, good versus evil, love and redemption, self-sacrifice and luck versus chance and fate. Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, has been discussed as an unforgeable character and enlightened character who works with Blomkvist on researching the mystery. What has happened to her, in her life, is as equally shocking and despairing as what occurred within the Vanger family – but Salander is not a victim and she despises those who, in her mind,  are regardless of situation and circumstance. She is a woman whom on some level we all want to be and yet on another, repulse from.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will pull you in and and keep you hooked until the very last page. Some of the same reviews mentioned early stated that they found the ending incomplete and wholly unsatisfying. On one hand, I can see why that would think that, Larsson’s intention for a trilogy (hopefully the next two books will be available in the U.S.) leaves a lot of things unsettled and unfinished. But do not let that dissuade you from reading this novel, it will make you think, act, hope and hug your loved ones close to you.