Author: Stieg Larsson
Original Title: Män Som Hatar Kvinnor1
Translator: Reg Keeland, AKA Steven T. Murray
Published: Norstedts Förlag (Swedish), 2005
UK Publication: Knopf, 2008
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is currently one of the more popular books in America and much of Europe. Three years after its release, it is still number 17 on the New York Times best-seller list, and has sold over 30 million copies. There are two sequels, which have been approximating TGwtDT in popularity. As Stieg Larsson died before his books were published, there will be no further books in the series.
TGwtDT is a murder mystery/thriller. It is mostly the story of an old and very rich man (Henrik Vanger) who has never gotten over the mysterious disappearance of his teenage niece (Harriet Vanger) forty years ago. Feeling that he is nearing the end of his life, he decides to do his best to clear up this mystery, and hires a disgraced investigative reporter (Mikael Blomkvist) to try and find out what happened to her. Mikael is hired to review the evidence of the case, but is to tell no-one what he is doing; his cover is to be that he is writing a history of the Vanger family. He firmly believes that the investigation will go nowhere, but as he has just gotten out of a losing court battle with a corrupt industrialist and is on a forced furlough from his editorial job, he is (barely) willing to take the job.
Of course, this is also the story of Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo. She is a freelance private investigator and data miner who is hired to do background checks on Mikael and the aforementioned corrupt industrialist. She is also a world-class social recluse, and is considered legally incompetent by the government, although this is clearly not the case. She has a comparability minor role in the main plot for the first half of the book, but she has her own troubles, which serve to spice up an otherwise slow narrative, and her trials and tribulations build into the overall theme of the book.
The entire book is written in slightly awkward, choppy prose. Whether this is due to the author or the translator, I do not know, but I found it off-putting. The sentence structure is also a bit odd, perhaps in an attempt to remind the reader that this is a Swedish book, as there is a definite feeling of a Scandinavian accent to the writing. In addition to that, Steig Larsson seems to prefer to write in a sort of obsessive-compulsive-third-person viewpoint, so we learn the square footage of everyone's house and office, exactly what is on the sandwiches they have for lunch, and the books on their bookcases. And on top of all of that, this is an VERY LONG BOOK, with a cast of thousands.
But these are not fatal flaws, and once you get past all of the little nuisances, this is an okay book. Not great, not even good enough to get me to read the sequels, but not bad if you have some time to kill. It is very dramatic and exciting, although it is a bit gruesome and violent for my taste. Best of all it has a wonderfully well thought out plot. After the rather mundane first chapter it qualifies as a page-turner, although the sheer mass of words keeps you from making any satisfying progress in the story unless you have a long weekend devote to the book. Unfortunately, I did not find the book quite interesting enough that I wanted to devote the necessary time to it, but apparently I am in the minority.
TGwtDT is followed by The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. While wandering through the bookstore you might also see a book entitled There Are Things I Want You to Know about Stieg Larsson and Me by Eva Gabrielsson, adorned with a cover suggesting that it is part of the TGwtDT series. This is a factual account of Larsson's life by his longtime partner Eva Gabrielsson.
1. Literally, "Men Who Hate Women"; Stieg Larsson was very adamant that this be the only title the book should be published under. Obviously, publishers and film-makers did not follow his wishes.