Book Review: The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson, 2005) – Journalist Mikael Blomkvist finds himself embroiled in the forty-year-old investigation of a young girl’s disappearance. Determined for a breakthrough, he forms an unlikely alliance with a secretive social misfit.

Verdict

Espionage thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo unveils complex social critique in a compelling narrative that makes an indelible impression.

5/5

Review

Before his untimely death, author Stieg Larsson had completed three manuscripts. And we should be so lucky that the trilogy was published posthumously in full. Titled Män som hatar kvinnor (or Men Who Hate Women), the first novel sheds its disguise as a mystery thriller and highlights the unequivocal theme of the series – violence against women.

Its English name The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is much less impactful as I regret my inability to read Swedish. But am I glad to have read it anyway after watching the brilliant movie adaptations. The essence of the plot never feels lost in translation on the pages. Translator Reg Keeland ensures powerful motifs remain in provocative terms.

Abuse by both society and individual recurs, and most falls upon the novel’s protagonist with little relent. Lisbeth Salander’s very presence invites judgement. Of tattoos, piercings, social ineptitude and incipient belligerence, she is met with prejudice and rejection despite guileless intentions.

Preconceptions stand in stark contrast to facts. In a world that feels too dangerous and fatal, she has but chosen to build up defenses by delving into a seemingly aggressive subculture.

More fluent in code than social niceties, Lisbeth constructs a double life online. She gains control as a faceless (and genderless) hacker in a world beyond the reach of authorities. Her skills land her into the purview of star journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who ropes her into a 40-year-old investigation of a young girl’s disappearance.

What began as a missing-person case soon unravels into fascinating layers of political failures and conspiracies. Moral bankruptcy, subtle and overt, presents in grotesque detail. Through each revelation, consequences point out the often unseen disadvantaged positions in gender, power and social statuses.

The slow dive into the mystery captivates with intelligent commentary, from first to last of the brilliant Millennium trilogy. In large part due to my ignorance in Swedish politics, the plot was difficult to follow at times. Even so, I was deeply drawn to every second of Lisbeth’s unyielding mettle against an avalanche of adversity. The most heartbreaking of which, comes personal.

Victims of assault sometimes choose silence; it seems easier to be ignored than accused. But Lisbeth stands strong against doubt with her difficult albeit necessary story. In how she chooses neither resignation nor conformity despite mounting pressure (lest for her own gain), it is easy to see how so many grew to admire and love The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

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