Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Having heard so much about this book I felt obligated to read it and see for myself why it has generated so much buzz. As someone who didn't know a tremendous amount about the story going in, I found the book to be much more violent and horrifying than I expected.

The book consists of two storylines involving disgraced financial reporter Mikael Blomkvist, and socially-inept hacker Lisbeth Salander. Together the two are trying to uncover the mystery surrounding the death of corporate heiress Harriet Vanger, and expose the financial misdeeds of a prominent tycoon. I was much more taken with the Vanger mystery than with the story about corporate corruption. That was rather dry.

One of Larsson's larger objectives in this book is clearly to highlight the disturbing pervasiveness of violence against women. All of the significant violence in the book is gendered, and is perpetrated against female victims. One of its victims is co-protagonist Lisbeth Salander. She is certainly an interesting character, one who is uncomfortable with what many of us might consider basic sociability. She is also a woman who has endured much abuse, and that makes her essential to Larsson's larger point. One of Salander's most significant problems is that legally she is considered a ward of the state. She had been in this position as a child without competent parents, but her status as a legal dependent was allowed to continue into her adulthood. The fact that an adult who earns her own money, holds a job, and is capable of managing the basic elements of day-to-day life can be legally alienated from her money and her basic legal rights is, quite simply, frightening. Clearly Larsson is making an argument against the institution of guardianship. I was unclear if the portion of the text which explain guardianship were part of Larsson's original text, or if they were added by the translator for the non-Swedish audience.

This is not the most amazing book I've ever read, but it's a book I'll certainly think about for some time. I suspect I'll read the next two books in the trilogy, as long as I can stomach the violence. Larsson does not glorify the horrific violence about which he writes, but it is, undeniably, difficult to read.

Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Vintage Crime, 2009) ISBN: 9780307454546

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