Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Stieg Larsson - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Given the popularity of this, the first of Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy, a long review seems somewhat pointless. I arrive at it after millions of copies have been sold, films have been made and countless articles written praising Larsson's writing. That said this is one occasion when general popularity seems spot on. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is tightly written, the plot is gripping and the exploration of the darker side of Swedish society is compelling.

Sweden is supposed to be a model social-democratic society. Investigative journalist and publisher Mikael Blomkvist is supposed to sum this up. He writes to expose corruption and failure in the financial industry, he is left-wing and self-confident. But after he cocks up on a story and is sued for libel by the head of a massive Swedish company he's left to the dogs. Luckily for Mikael he's rescued by a somewhat eccentric proposal from a rather more benevolent multimillionaire capitalist.

Frankly I had less sympathy with Mikael that the author seems to want me to have. He's arrogant, brash and not particularly left wing. He's also cavalier with his sexual relationships in a way that seems to damage the people around him.

Which brings me to the real hero of the story, Lisbeth Salandar. Lisbeth has had an upbringing of violence and abuse. There are several difficult scenes in the book involving rape and violence against her, though through her skills she is able to have revenge. Through Lisbeth, Larsson is able to explore some of the ways in which even in a supposedly enlightened social democratic country domestic violence, rape and abuse are common, and are covered up, ignored or not deemed worthy of consideration and the authorities are often colluding in this.

The book was extremely readable, though I'm not sure I'd say I enjoyed it. The violence and abuse at its heart make for difficult reading, but then, that's clearly the authors intent.

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