The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was written by Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson, but published posthumously in 2005. Since then, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, along with its sequels in Larsson’s Millennium Series, has sold more than 20 million copies in Europe and the United States, and continues to top the best-sellers list today.

The recipe for such success seems to be equal parts mystery and thriller, with a dash of foreign nomenclature and business detail. 

The story centers on Swedish financial journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, and his conviction and consequent sentencing for libel. With his career destroyed, Blomkvist is contacted by an aging industrial tycoon, Henrik Vanger, and convinced to investigate the disappearance of Vanger’s niece 40 years prior. 

Blomkvist is helped along the way by the titular character, disturbed computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. As Blomkvist and Salander dig deeper into the mystery, the details surrounding Vanger’s tragic loss become more and more sinister.

After hearing about this book for years, I did not expect to find such a distinctly ordinary novel. If anything marks it extraordinary, it is the unexpected savagery and theme of anti-feminine violence found in the book’s villains. 

The three-pronged plot – that of Mikael’s judicial problems, the Vanger investigation and Salander’s offshoot character development – is rather consistent with my own observations of bestseller characteristics in that it is complicated enough to hold a reader’s attention, but not so complicated as to make the reader overly confused. 

However, the novel’s attention to personal and brutal crimes such as rape and sexual murder is perplexing, as best sellers are not often as open and explicit when dealing with these issues. I can’t help but wonder if impressions and fashion were the real causes for this book’s success.

But honestly, what makes it horrible also makes it great. The reason Larsson uses such blunt language and description of such heinous crimes is to make a point: that women, and people in general, are not the objects that evil men think they are. 

The best example is Lisbeth Salander herself – in the way she does not react, or slink away quietly to the corner, but carefully and fiercely refuses to be beaten. While not the typical role model, she is certainly a character to be proud of. If one can get past the rest of it, Salander is the ingredient that makes the book worth reading.