Book Review: The Mystery of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Uncovered

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Minor spoilers ahead.

Behold, I do read adult literature!  And Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is definitely adult literature.  Here I include a warning that I wish that I had myself received:  The book contains several detailed, visceral rape scenes and deals with sadists.

The statistics at the beginning of each section suggest to me, though, that Larsson is writing to give a voice to the voiceless women who are abused, sometimes sexually, by men, and give a reason beyond the mere, unfortunate “sex and violence sell” adage that writers are often forced to remember, needing to make enough to cover living expenses with their writing, for the frequent discussions of grotesque torture of women.

The characters are almost as a rule promiscuous, but the consensual sex scenes are handled with more grace and are less imposing, sometimes implied by a mere phrase.

It is the financial crimes with which the book is also interested that suggest to me that Larsson does not intend his book for even a teenaged audience.

A good friend, coincidentally a teenager, proving that a writer’s intentions do not dictate his audience, recommended Stieg Larsson’s book to me and even handed me her copy to keep me from having an excuse to avoid it.  Interested, I took her rather forceful suggestion.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has won national and international fame.  I remember seeing advertisements for the book in Tube stations while I was abroad in London in Spring 2010.  Sweden already boasts a 2009 cinematic adaptation of the story.  MGM is set to release an American adaptation December 21, 2011 with a high-profile cast.

The real pull of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I found, was the mystery of the disappearance of Harriet Vanger that financial journalist Mikael “Kalle” Blomkvist finds himself investigating, and which becomes more and more tangled as Blomkvist digs deeper into the records of the day of her disappearance.  Larsson succeeded in drawing me into the case with intriguing, often distressing clues dropped with the proper length of pages between to keep me from getting bogged down in the many parallel plots: Blomkvist’s relationships, Salander’s life and relationships, the dark secrets and unlikely lives of the colorful Vagner family, the fate of the magazine Millennium of which Blomkvist is co-head, the fate of the Vagner Corporation, which is similarly in peril….  All these Larsson manages to weave together with the story of the investigation into a complicated and many-layered narrative.

The plot, for me became truly gripping when these plots begin to intersect, when Blomkvist discovers Lisbeth Salander, a young PI who specializes in less-than-routine background checks.  Once these two minds unite in a single cause, the mystery of Harriet’s disappearance begins to unravel more rapidly, and the Vagner family, some of whom resent Blomkvist’s investigation, take notice and go on defense.

Ultimately, I was surprised by the mystery’s outcome, and, frankly, I doubt that many would foresee its conclusion.

Beyond plot, Larsson triumphs with the colorful Vagner family, a motley group who are at turns laughable for the eccentricities but are always intriguing for their dark secrets and often forceful personalities.  Salander, the title character, too is a triumph, a strong, well-researched personality with many eccentricities that make her stand out.

****

Larsson, Stieg.  The Millennium Trilogy, Book One: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Trans. Reg Keeland.  New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard-Random, 2008.

This review is not endorsed by Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland, Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, Vintage Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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