Monday, August 19, 2013

Review : The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

(Review written originally on:- June 18, 2011)

Never has a book made me experience one too many conflicting emotions side by side. Never has a book managed to infuriate, astound, shock, disgust, terrify yet charm me at the same time. The international best-seller named The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or Män som hatar kvinnor (as it is known in Swedish) deserves every bit of the craze and the recognition it has achieved worldwide since its first publication in 2005. I have about zilch intention of giving away even a brief overview of the plot but for the sake of a
review I must. Hence.....

Mikael Blomkvist is an investigative journalist and co-owner of the monthly magazine Millenium who had just lost a libel lawsuit filed against him by the Swedish business tycoon Hans-Erik Wennerström. His reputation at stake, he decides to distance himself from the magazine's management and publishing bodies. Around the same time he is offered a freelance assignment by Henrik Vanger, patriarch of the affluent Vanger family and CEO of Vanger Enterprises, which deals with cracking the mysterious case of his great-niece Harriet Vanger, who had disappeared without a trace 36 years ago. Facing a prison term of about 3 months and no better alternative in sight, Blomkvist decides to take up the job. At the same time we're introduced to the other protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, a 24-year old, introverted, delinquent-like woman whose outward physical appearance replete with piercings and tattoos, repel most people she comes in contact with. An ingenius hacker who is also blessed with a photographic memory, she has the ability of digging up little-known yet vital information about public figures and documenting them with uncanny precision. She is assigned to do a thorough background check on Blomkvist by an aide of Henrik Vanger's. Eventually in the chain of events, she comes to work as an assistant for Blomkvist and helps him solve the intriguing case of Harriet Vanger and uncover a long chain of gruesome murders and aggravated sexual assaults against women spread throughout Sweden in turn. 

 To be honest, it is impossible to summarize an explosive novel like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in a paragraph or two. It will merely serve as an insult to the genius of Stieg Larsson, who has masterfully crafted a story out of the lives of Swedish corporate honchos, sexual sadism, misogyny, investigative reporting, journalistic values with a little bit of love thrown in as well. Hence it is a book you must read no matter how much you cringe at the graphic detailing of some of the crimes depicted. In any case you'll be compelled to read on as the mysteries continue to deepen till the very end.

Going by the writing style, Reg Keeland's translation seems to have managed to capture the underlying darkness of the story. I can only imagine how Larsson's original narration must have been like. There's a multitude of characters in the book and almost each one of them have been portrayed meticulously through their action or inaction. But none of them stand out as much as Lisbeth Salander's does. A victim of a violent sexual crime herself, she exacts retribution from her perpetrator in the most fitting way possible without having to resort to the law in which she doesn't place any faith in. Lisbeth is someone who'll hit back even harder and take control of a situation rather than be intimidated. She is socially awkward, incapable of developing long-term relationships with people or trust anyone, possibly due to the nature of her abnormal childhood years. She is perceived as a mentally retarded, repugnant woman by most and her inner brilliance always goes unnoticed. But then again Lisbeth is not one to care about what other people think of her. It is possibly because Blomkvist deals with her like he'd deal with any other normal human being, that Salander finds herself unable to treat him with the same calculated coldness she had always shown towards others.

Coming to the fallacies of the book, I must admit I couldn't find any. I was a bit surprised to find a mild love story angle developing towards the end as love is always an unnecessary baggage in thriller novels. However I understood the author's need to humanize Lisbeth, or at least offer her some sort of a balm to cast a calming effect on her tormented soul which she skilfully conceals underneath a mask of stoicism. Nothing more apt than love to achieve such a purpose. With the help of an inherently macabre theme of sexual violence, Larsson has tried his best to make the readers comprehend the brutality of a crime like rape or sodomy. And this seems to have been the main purpose of this book, given that Lisbeth's character has been named after a girl whom Larsson witnessed being gang-raped as a young boy.

 Thank you Stieg Larsson for deciding to publish the novels, otherwise the world would've missed out on one of the greatest trilogies in the mystery/thriller genre ever written.

5 glorious stars.

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