ʺThe Girl With The Dragon Tattooʺ is the first in the highly acclaimed ʺMillenniumʺ series of crime novels by Steig Larsson.
The novel follows Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced crime journalist embroiled in a libel suit, and punk prodigy, Lisbeth Salander, who finds employment in Milton Security (one of Sweden’s top Security firms). Both these main characters do not directly interact until a later point in the novel, with Larsson using parallel story lines, which is quite unusual for such a genre.
The focal point of the novel is brought in when Henrik Vanger, a retired industrialist of the Vanger Corporation, seeks out Blomkvist to solve the mystery of his grand-niece’s sudden disappearance thirty-six years ago. With Henrik’s lawyer enquiring about Blomkvist, incidentally with Milton Security, the first connection is brought in. Blomkvist himself asks to employ Salander when he finds out that she wrote a report covering every scruple of his life. He hires her as a researcher, impressed by her report.
In the middle of all this, Salander gets raped by her guardian, a sadist, which does come as a shock. Salander tapes the rape and tortures him, making sure any future perversions are prevented. The revolt against male repression is a sentiment not shared, or not even possible by many, but does bring in the theme of the novel (and the original title in Swedish- Men who hate Women). This theme strongly runs through the story and Larsson, himself a feminist, makes it clear that it still exists along with feminine inability to go against such heinous acts.
The unearthing of the initial clue, seemingly unnoticed in thirty-six years, itself is quite ingenious, but does stretch the imagination. It does not add to the verisimilitude aimed to be achieved in the novel. The revelation of the main criminal, as in most crime novels, is a twist in the story, and the case of Harriet Vanger turns out to be no different. What follows is a morbid and grotesque tale of incest, rape, kidnapping and murder, all of which, Larsson puts across strongly. And which are, disturbingly, still present in society.
Enmeshed in all this is also the lawsuit against Blomkvist, with financial fraud also brought into the picture. Interesting commentary also complements this sensitive topic, but does create unnecessary deviations in the storyline.
Although it is quite an intriguing plot and the style of the prose does bring in the urgency and tension as well as the repulsive nature of the crimes, it does have its flaws. The narrative tends to become tedious and too descriptive in certain parts, without which the novel could be significantly shorter and easier to read. All this along with its tendency to be far-fetched, reduces its readability. Also, the strong sexual undertones as well as the violence presented may be quite disturbing for some, so discretion is advised. These are, however, the central themes of the story, and the fact that it does have one, and addresses it unflinchingly, is why it stands out in contemporary fiction, and well worth the read.