As “A Note About the Author” at the conclusion of the novel supplies, “Stieg Larsson was the editor in chief of the anti-racist magazine, Expo.” He was also “[a] leading expert on anti-democratic, right-wing extremist and Nazi organizations.” In this, his first work of fiction, his interests and expertise passionately burst out. He patiently spins a complex web from strands of real and imagined history. In Larsson’s novel, Blomkvist digs up early and mid-twentieth century Vanger affiliations with Sweden’s fascist groups and looks for persisting extremist hate among living family members.
The issue that most saturates The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo though is that of shocking sexual violence primarily against women but not excluding men. Salander and Blomkvist both confront evidence of such crimes. Larsson, who takes his time establishing this theme in his text never wants the reader to lose sight of this topic even if it isn’t floating on top at the moment so he introduces each of the book’s four parts with statistics on the subject. For instance, for Part 1, he informs, “18 percent of the women of Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man.”
Larsson’s other major elements are corporate malfeasance that threatens complete collapse of stock markets and anarchistic distrust of officialdom to the point of endorsing (at least, almost) vigilantism.
Do all those charged, emotional and somewhat politicized building blocks shroud the novel in black shadows? Yes…. But Larsson’s carefully calibrated tale is more than a grisly, cynical world view of his country and the modern world at large. At its core, it is an fascinating character study of a young woman who easily masters computer code but for whom human interaction is almost always more trouble than it is worth, of an investigative reporter who chooses a path of less resistance than Salander but whose humanity reaches out to many including her, and of peripheral characters that need more of their story told.
The closing scene of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo reinforces how firmly, if perhaps unwillingly, Lisbeth Salander has seated herself in the reader’s heart. Her disappointment and disillusionment leave us with a pang of sorrow and regret and a clinging wish that she might not give up.
Fortunately, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be followed by two more in the Millennium series: The Girl Who Played with Fire,
and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. Alfred A. Knopf has committed in advance to publishing all three books in English translation. Actually, Larsson made a 200-page start on a fourth book, but sadly he succumbed to a heart attack in 2004 and his father has decided the unfinished work will remain unpublished. In Europe — especially Sweden, Larsson’s homeland — this trilogy have been a publishing sensation and has reportedly already earned about 80 million kroner ($13 million).
Go buy them all. I’m serious! Now!