I knew what I was getting myself into when I started reading Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo since, those of you who read my blog know, it was the movie that inspired my reading of this book. I knew that I would be reading about plenty of violence against women after having seen so much of it on screen. I wasn’t prepared for the effect it would have on me to see the words so precisely placed on the page – horrific words that once strung together produced a most disturbing and terrifying picture in my head. (yes, that picture was mostly of Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara solving the mystery of the serial killer – but it was extremely disturbing nonetheless).
The book presents a crisply clinical observation of violence against women in Sweden – something I didn’t know was such an insidious part of that society. Part 2 of the novel, Consequence Analysis, opens with a statistical epigraph: “Forty-six percent of women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man.” I was positively floored when I read the statistic. This novel does not hold any punches – it places a very serious and real issue, that affects everyone, everywhere, in the spotlight. The novel made me uncomfortable, made me feel fear, disgust, rage and deep sorrow for the fictional victims of a very disturbed fictional serial killer. Or, as Lisbeth Salander, Larsson’s protagonist describes him, a serial hater of women.
I have never read such a novel. I normally steer clear of plots that involve So. Much. Violence. In fact, had I known the plot beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have watched the film. This reminded me of something I had read on a blog I follow, 101 Books (check it out – fantastic blog). In December, Robert was reading Lolita and he questioned what our limits were in terms of reading material…he felt he had reached his in reading about a pedophile. I have to admit, I was feeling the same way through many of the graphic scenes and descriptions in Larsson’s book. I was unnerved at the extent of the violence against women Larsson created; I was more unnerved when I read his epigraphs and realized that this is not his creation, nor a reflection of his sick mind (though I admittedly know very little about Larsson). It is a mirror of what goes on every day in some women’s lives. Being ignorant of it does not mean it does not exist.
Larsson’s victims are vindicated by Lisbeth Salander (a victim herself). She is a crusador for women who have been or were victimized- not that she would ever openly say she is a crusador. Not even close. She would snarl and stomp off angrily that someone has tried to label her. The characters in this novel are so well developed. Even the minor characters possess a richness that allows the reader to understand them, their views and the reasons behind their decision-making – repulsive, or not. At times, I felt character descriptions were a bit tedious – there were characters I did not care for, nor did I feel the need to understand their past in order to place them into the plot. But, I grew to appreciate Larsson’s attention to detail.
Regardless of the layered detail, Lisbeth Salander remains an enigma. There is much description about her, her lifestyle, her abilities and intelligence. Yet, she remains inaccesible. There is still that part of her that is difficult to understand, to connect with – but, I believe that is part of her allure.
I have to admit, the novel did drag on for a bit at the end. It had what felt like three different resolutions…I kept asking myself when is this going to end? (oh yeah, I forgot that happened in the movie too).
It did end. And, it ended well. So much so that I’ve already started The Girl Who Played With Fire (finally!) and I had to pry it out of my fingers so I could write this review.
Ultimately, I’m happy to have completed the novel and not jumped straight into the second book in the trilogy. It has prepared me for Larsson’s writing style – which I am now thoroughly enjoying. It was an entertaining read – swift (mostly) and eye-opening. I would definitely recommend it.