At the start of the New Year, I had quite a difficult time trying to decide what book to read. I had recovered from my previous book’s “hangover” (my fellow readers will know what I mean) and I was ready to start the year anew with a book. However, with so many books on my “to read” list, choosing a new one – every time I finish one, not just this time – is always such a tough endeavor.
Six days into the year, I finally embarked on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Of course I couldn’t begin the year with a simple novel, to ease into my year of reading. No, I jumped headfirst into a hefty 644-page Swedish marvel. And naturally, I read it years after it was released. I promise one of these days, I’ll actually read a book nearer to its publishing date.
As is true with many other novels I’ve read, I wonder now why I put off reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for so long. Well, actually, I do know the answer to that question – because the Millenium series’ size and stature is a bit on the intimidating side – but apparently this year seemed like just the right time to embark on the 600-plus-page-per-book series. And the page number is also exactly why you’re hearing about my thoughts on the book three months later. It actually took me that long to read it *gasp* and it is one of the longer time periods it has taken me to read something.
The novel begins with Mikael Blomkvist being convicted of libel as a journalist (publishing false statements that are damaging to another person’s reputation); his life is on the fritz. Soon thereafter, he is invited to meet with Henrik Vanger, a retired CEO who has indicting evidence to prove Blomkvist’s incriminating exposé on a billionaire industrialist as truth… as long as Blomkvist is able to do something for Vanger first. Forty years earlier, Vanger’s niece Harriet mysteriously vanished without a trace to hint at what had happened to her; naturally her uncle suspects murder. Under the guise of writing a “family chronicle,” Blomkvist would investigate anyone and anything in an attempt to uncover the reality of Harriet’s disappearance. In lieu of Blomkvist’s decision to take a break from the magazine he is co-owner and publisher of (called Millenium), as well as being out quite a bit of money for court fees and the like, he cautiously accepts such an offer from Vanger, even if he doesn’t believe anything further will come of the investigation when done by a mere journalist like himself.
You might be asking how the title character, the “girl with the dragon tattoo,” comes into play. Lisbeth Salander’s narrative begins not only with a description of how she has been ruled incompetent by the government and has been put under the care of the guardian, but also as the woman hired by Vanger and his lawyer to look into the background of one Mikael Blomkvist. Blomkvist and Salander do not officially cross paths for some time, but it eventually does happen – when Blomkvist realizes how great a scope the investigation is into the Vanger family and requires someone to help him with research. Surprise, surprise as to whom Vanger and his lawyer suggests for such a task. It takes a while for Lisbeth to openly be called a “hacker,” but when you’ve got a major talent for something – even if it involves diggings into the lives of others by any means – who really cares what you call it.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a fantastic book, no matter how long it took me to read it. I had been told by others beforehand that it starts out slow – and yes, that is true – but once you get past that not-exactly-defined point of non-slowness, it gets so much better. It’s captivating and invigorating, even if you’re unable to properly pronounce the names of the cities in Sweden. Even better, Larsson works some great humor into what might be considered a more serious novel. Case in point: when Blomkvist receives a “hate mail” email and moves said message into a “Constructive Criticism” folder in his inbox, or (some of my favorites) when he uses multiple The Lord of the Rings references.
Keeping track of every single Vanger family member mentioned and their relation to one another, even with the help of the family tree located at the front of the book, is a difficult one. After so long, I hardly bothered trying. What Larsson constantly reminds us of, however, and with an unyielding confidence, is the major issues of Sweden and other locations around the globe. Violence against women and the morals of the corporate world only scratch the surface of some very heavy themes found in the book. This might be what drew my attention even further to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – it is amongst an array of books that have no shame in calling out major issues and presenting them unapologetically to the public. Instead of fairytale endings and waiting to be saved, Lisbeth Salander surprisingly enough turns out to be a heroine in disguise, and despite her troubled past and her current mental state, becomes quite the inspiration for women everywhere. But to explain this further would require a whole new post.
I give The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a recommendation with flying colors, but with a word of caution: this novel is rough… brutal even, and not to be approached lightly. I say this not only because of the size of the book, but the varying and quite serious subject matter found throughout. The mystery and crime investigation may keep you on your toes as you progress, but the gruesome truth behind a work of fiction like this will give you a glimpse into a reality that is far truer than any reality television show. Some people don’t just read about it in a book/see it in a movie like in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; some people have had the unfortunate experience of living the events of such a tale. Keep that in mind if you so choose to embark on the first book of such an epic series.
Published 2009 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. Originally Swedish published in 2005.
Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery/Suspense
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Learn more about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on Goodreads