“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is the first in the bestselling “Millennium” trilogy by Scandinavian author Stieg Larsson. It is a complex, passionate and compelling thriller centred on the intrigues of financial fraud, corrupt minds and on an affluent family’s dark past. Henrik Vanger, the head of Vanger Corporation, is convinced that his niece, Harriet’s, disappearance 40 years earlier was no accident. He believes that she was murdered, that a member of their own family is the culprit.
Henrik finds hope in Mikael Blomkvist, a well renowned financial journalist, who has lost a libel case and watched as his life is subsequently ruined. Blomkvist is charged with investigating the disappearance of Harriet and joins forces with Lisbeth Salander, a genius hacker and the girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The books protagonist, BLomkvist, is extremely well sketched. He is motivated by the search for truth, and challenges his basic moral viewpoint. He is charming, kind and incredibly believable. His human failings and visible development make him relatable.
He works closely with Salandler, another ingenious creation, and forms a close and inherently credible bond with her. Salander’s characterizes the misunderstood genius with a troubled youth and issues with authority. Ultimately, she is isolated from the world by her ‘difference’ and her rejection of societal rules and norms. Blomkvist is rejected by the world following his loss of reputation. They find solace in one another’s company and their warm and loving relationship and tenuous romantic involvement, stands as a stark contrast to the stark harsh world depicted in the Novel.
Although it may seem like a run of the mill, mystery thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo subtly explores very relevant topics. One, is the horror of gender based violence and the power and control over others. The original title of the book in fact, was “Men who hate Women”. Salander’s guardian is in control of her finances. He uses this power cruelly and brutally rapes her. Furthermore, the book’s serial killers defend their murder and torture of women through biblical verses claiming that they are vile and unworthy – “She profanes herself by playing the harlot”.
Even though this book is a criticism of Swedish society, and their violence against women, there are important lessons that we as South Africans must learn. At the time of writing this book report Gender Link’s Research published that 51% of women in Gauteng have experienced some form of violence. Salandler says, “I think you’re wrong. It’s not an insane serial killer who read his Bible wrong. It’s just a common or garden bastard who hates women. ” While the book’s murderers used the bible, many of our countries perpetrators use patriarchy as justification.
Neither is acceptable, neither are excuses. Another striking theme, is that of false appearances. The disconnect between one’s true self and how one is seen by others, is explored. In the opening sequences, Blomkvist is seen to be a liar and Wennerstrom (The businessman he accused of fraud) appears to be a scrupulous and honest businessman. However, we discover as the book unfolds that the opposite is true. Much in the same way the novel unpacks the truth about its characters, I believe we must be equally observant about our own projections to the world and how we truly feel.
Salander’s physical appearance suggests incompetence and vulnerability, while she is in fact extremely intelligent and capable of defending herself and surviving. Non-conformity and social exclusion is a thread observed throughout the novel. After Salander gives Bjurman his tattoo, he too becomes marked as asocial outsider. He consequently be removed from certain normal’ social interactions. This novel was an excellent read, I would highly recommend it to those who are truly willing to engage with the many, complex themes as well as those who are just looking for an excellent story.