Do you like unusual plots, strong characters and unpredictable endings? If so, then former Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson’s book, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, has them all. The first of a trilogy, Larsson uses his knowledge of extreme right wing organisations to vent ire at individuals and institutions who abuse their power. But the book isn’t a rant; it’s a commentary on life. It takes a fascinating journey through the loves, hatreds and intrigues of the once rich and powerful Vanger family. But there’s a problem. As head of the dynasty, Henrik Vanger still continues to be tormented by a particular question that decades later, still remains unanswered: who killed his young protégée, Harriet Vanger? Suspecting that the murderer was a member of his large and dysfunctional family, he calls in disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist to find out.
Arriving in Hedestad where the Vanger family are based, Blomkvist initially feels reluctant to get involved. However, with libel damages to pay after defaming the powerful financier, Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, Blomkvist falls under the spell of old Henrik Vanger and takes the job. What happens then, Blomkvist was totally unprepared for.
With the skill of a true craftsman, Larsson plunges Blomkvist into a simmering underground maelstrom of Venger family enmities, its flirtation with Nazi politics and, more chillingly, a predilection on the part of some of its members for incest and general sexual abuse. Starting slowly, perhaps too slowly for some, Larsson asks the reader for patience as one fascinating sub-plot unfolds after another. All comes, however, to those who wait. Suddenly, the pace quickens. The parts of the Vanger jigsaw and what ultimately happened to Harriet, starts to fit together. But to unravel the mystery, Blomkvist needed help. It came to him in the unlikely package of young, delinquent computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander.
In her early twenties, anorexic, taciturn and emotionally disturbed, Salander wasn’t even particularly pretty. Who, but Stieg Larsson, could possibly have cast such a moody, aggressive and thoroughly obnoxious character in such a starring role and actually get away with it? Well, he did, and that’s the point. In large measure, Larsson’s characters are contradictions. We are introduced, for example, to Harriet’s mother, the poisonous Isabella Vanger, and to Harriet’s rapacious brother Martin. We are introduced to Birger Vanger and his sister Cecilia. All would have been socially perceived as coming from ‘good stock’ yet as Larsson so skilfully shows, appearances can be massively deceptive. On the other hand, sporting a dragon tattoo on her left shoulder whilst leaving enough room to accommodate her personal chip, Salander, despite her many faults clearly possess a nobility of spirit that makes you warm to her. Moreover, what she did to business magnate Hans-Erik Wennerstom, Blomkvist’s nemesis, towards the end of the book, was not only massively clever but enough to make the hardest of us smile.
What a book!
Read the whole of The Gates of Ytan