Sunday, June 20, 2010

'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' - review

Like millions of others, I recently discovered Stieg Larsson's 'Girl with the Dragon tattoo' and said, "Wow, what a book!"

At one level it's a pretty good murder mystery but what I really loved was the backdrop. I've read one too many book set in London, Paris, Los Angeles & New York. Sweden is a whole new and fascinating world and came with many surprises.

I've always thought of Sweden as some kind of socialist paradise where people are smiling, peaceful and blonde. Well, this book brutally explodes that postcard picture. The Sweden where girls sport dragon tattoos has a dark underbelly - just like any other part of the world.

The principal character in the book is Michael Blomkvist, a journalist who brings out a small magazine called 'Millenium'. At the very beginning, Michael is sentenced to 3 months in prison for defaming a business magnate by the name Hans-Erik Wennerstorm.

Not that Wennerstorm ain't a slimeball, but sometimes, it's complicated.

To save his magazine and his sanity, Blomkvist takes up an unusual assignment from another tycoon called Henrik Vanger. Vanger is obsessed with a 37 year old mystery in his family - the disappearance of his 16 year old niece Harriet. Foul play was suspected, but neither her body nor her murderer were ever found.

Henrik wants Blomkvist to examine the mystery with 'fresh eyes' and is willing to pay a humongous sum of money if Blomkvist agrees to spend a year in the rural outpost of Hedestad. Pretending to write a book on the Vanger family and empire.

So far so good, but the really interesting character in the tale is runnning a parallel track. Lisbeth Salander is a quaint, misunderstood, genius-level hacker and freelance private detective. In fact, officially, she is considered 'unfit' as an adult and therefore must have a legal guardian provided by the State.

And here's where the author really departs from the world of Agatha Christie where evil lurks in man even in the idyllic countryside. But there is never any cruelty, exploitation or indeed systemic failure.

You are forced to wonder, who, really can decide on another man or woman's sanity? People who would never sport a dragon tattoo and appear to be model citizens can actually, be monsters underneath.

In fact the original Swedish title of the book 'Men who hate women' is quite appropriate! I won't say anymore because it will take away from your reading pleasure. Salander and Blomkvist eventually team up and discover deep dark secrets (yeh part thoda filmi laga mujhe) but hell, I'm sure Hollywood will soon make one :)

Apart from the 'story', I enjoyed a couple of other aspects about the book. Blomkvist has sex with three different women - but it's not in the James Bond mode. There's just a different sense of morality, less boxed-in relationships.

For example, Erika - Blomkvists's long time friend and business partner - is married to Greger. But she spends many evenings and weekends with him, with the knowledge - and tacit consent - of her husband. And this arrangement works fine for all three parties.

Lastly, Blomkvist is passionate about the role and responsibility of journalists. In fact, he has written a book titled 'The Knights Templar: A Cautionary Tale for Financial Reporters' in which he minces no words to describe the depths to which this reportage has fallen.

"In the last 20 years, Swedish financial journalists had developed into a group of incompetent lackeys who were puffed up with their own self-importance and who had no record of thinking critically... (they) seemed content to regurgitate the statements issued by CEOs and stock market speculators - even when this information was plainly misleading or wrong."

Sounds familiar doesn't it? Human nature, and the nature of power and politics is pretty much the same. Wherever you go. That's why this series from Sweden has sold 35 million copies...

Sadly, all after the author's own sudden and untimely death, before any of it was published. Life - and the way it works - is the biggest mystery of all.

Well, I have parts 2 and 3 to look forward to. Uske baad, back to looking for something new and different to read...!


  1. It's a riveting book. I am done with the 2nd one in the series too. Thought it was more darker than 'Dragon'. And yes the fact that it's set in sweden adds to the mystique (pronouncing the names is a bummer though)

    A swedish film has already been made on this & has won critical acclaim from all corners. A possible Hollywood remake may have Daniel Craig as Blomkvist (so much for not having sex like James Bond hehe)& I am sure that one will be set in swanky new york or some such.

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  3. I loved the book; the 3rd book is the best; after a long time really really enjoyed a terrific fiction book; in fact I gave it to my Mom who has stopped reading fiction since ages; even she loved it; the characters are so fresh...though all of them have too much coffee

  4. You have done Excellent review. Need to buy this book now as early as possible. You may like to claim advertising royalty from publisher :-), just joking.

  5. Spare a thought for Larsson's partner of 30 years, Eva, who was left holding NOTHING on his death. Thanks to the author's father and brother, who took advantage of the fact that Stieg and Eva were not married formally. And despite the fact that they were estranged from Stieg at the time of his death. And this, when a lot of experts feel Eva played a more than supporting role in the writing of these books.Pity how things turned out, isn't it?

  6. happened to read this book recently ... quite a good read !

    Swedish Movie adaptations are already out and there are lot of talks about Hollywood adaptation as well

  7. wow nice blog hope u would like to visit mine also

  8. just started reading this book and its stays with you...awesome ! waiting to read 2nd and 3rd in the trilogy!

  9. If you like Nordics in general and their crime novels in particular then Jo Nesbo should definitely be on your list.

  10. Picked up the first in the series...all the best to me.. :)


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